Critics were dissecting the performance of Denver International Airport and its airlines during the Blizzard of 2006, even as straggling families were joyously reunited on Christmas Eve after the longest shutdown in airport history.
"There's no question the ball was dropped," said aviation consultant Mike Boyd, of Evergreen, who is flabbergasted that two of the six runways were not reopened until noon Friday, even though Pena Boulevard into the airport was plowed clear more than 24 hours earlier.
All six runways have been in operation since Saturday afternoon, and the airport has essentially returned to normal operations. Distribution of blankets and cots to stranded travelers was to continue until 10 p.m. Sunday, however.
"There are other airports just giggling about this," Boyd said. "Other hubs are saying they will take advantage of this."
Boyd, a frequent critic of DIA but an admirer of airport manager Turner West and his key staff, said they "will have some explaining to do because Denver has a tremendous black eye because of this."
"What is amazing is that Denver is one of the better-run airports," Boyd said. "It's insulting to have DIA say it took them so long after the snow stopped to reopen."
Like Boyd, Kirk Jubeck, a software engineer in Erie, said he was concerned that airport management "would blame everything that didn't work out on the storm. I'm saying there were things that were not the fault of the storm but were poor operational planning."
Jubeck, who picked up his brother at the airport Friday night, sent the Rocky Mountain News a three- page e-mail outlining problems from traffic congestion to lack of staff in various areas.
"Maybe they made the decision to stay closed for logistical reasons until noon Friday," he said, "but by then the storm had been over for nearly 36 hours followed by sunny skies and no wind."
From DIA's perspective, the airport's "progress in the past 48 or 72 hours have been incredible," given wind-whipped snow that piled drifts 8 feet high, spokesman Steve Snyder said Sunday.
"I think it's reasonable to take Christmas Day off, step back and have everyone go over their notes," he said.
Travelers told stories of chaos Saturday morning, with planes rocking on chunks of ice as tugs pushed and pulled them away from the gate. Security screening lines began at the south end of the terminal for screening on the passenger footbridge to Concourse A on the north end of the terminal. The wait was at least one and half to two hours, although the DIA Web site, checked on the drive to the airport, predicted a maximum wait of 75 minutes.
The airlines also came under fire from disgruntled travelers, or would-be travelers.
"Frontier is going to get a lot of criticism because you absolutely could not get through to their call center for days," said Charles Kopeika, 49, of Castle Rock, regional operations manager for Ford Motor Co. "I still couldn't get through (Sunday) morning. I tried literally at least 100 to 150 times."
Kopeika was scheduled to fly to Detroit on Thursday morning, but stayed home, rode out the storm and kept calling Frontier Airlines.
"Their Web site was good. It said they were overwhelmed with calls, but keep trying."
Finally, he bought a ticket on U.S. Airways to depart Sunday for Detroit, by way of Phoenix.
A Frontier Airlines spokesperson did not respond to a page from the Rocky Mountain News on Sunday.
Airport Manager Turner West and his key staff "will have some explaining to do because Denver has a tremendous black eye because of this."
The state's response to every major storm has to be evaluated to assure access to Colorado's signature winter playgrounds.
Airline officials say massive snowstorms are causing an unclaimed baggage jam at Denver International Airport.
United was to open its check-in area at 2 a.m. today, about two hours earlier than usual. It's also putting plans in place to fly workers into Denver from other hubs.