Airport wars: Why flying out of DIA is for the birds

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School’s out for summer, but the house remains unsold, so my wife and kids are, for the moment, stuck in the suburbs of Indianapolis. That means flying back every two or three weeks to visit, which is obviously less than ideal.

When traveling by air, the debate in these parts has long been about which airport to use. Should it be Denver International, or do you use Colorado Springs, home seemingly to more rubber-band powered planes than anywhere in the country?

After a trip home for the Memorial Day Weekend, I think I can settle this once and for all.

My flight out of DIA was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Worried that traffic might be sticky given that it was the start of the holiday weekend, I left Colorado Springs about 3:45 p.m.

I also wanted the extra time so that I could park away from the airport to save a few bucks and hop a shuttle in.

As it turned out, traffic was a non-issue, light for most of my trip, which took a tad under 90 minutes.

But as I headed north on I-25, I made a last-second change in my route. The 470 bypass beckoned, so I veered onto it rather than using 225 and then segueing onto 70. Had I stuck with my original plan, I could have turned exited east onto 56th off Pena Boulevard and easily found the long-term lot, where parking cost less than $7 a day.

Instead, I cruised up the bypass. Problem was, when I got off at 56th, I was farther east than I realized. And I still took a right off the interstate. Of course, there’s nothing out there but farmland, but rather than track back and risk losing time, I got back on the bypass and headed north to the airport.

DIA was within sight pretty quickly after that point. I was following airport parking signs in less than 5 minutes. They led me right into the East Terminal parking lots. If there were other signs for cheaper parking farther from the terminal, I missed them entirely.

Worse yet, the economy lot was full, so I had no choice but to park in the garage. The cost of parking there? Eighteen dollars a day. (Four days later, my parking bill came to $72 rather than the $28 I would have paid at economy lot.)

I took a quick look at the odometer before heading into the terminal. It was just as Google promised: An 84.6-mile trip from my office on Platte, which had taken me a little less than 90 minutes to complete. (That’s a total of three hours in the car and more than 170 miles by the time I got back.)

The walk from the parking garage to the terminal itself was short, less than a quarter-mile. It was a different story once I got inside. It took two escalator trips and at least another half-mile before I got to my airline check-in counter. That’s not a big deal, because I was alone and had just a carry-on bag. But it would have been a bit trickier with the kids and wife along, or if I were on a longer trip and needed more luggage.

Hundreds of people were in line to check in, but I used one of the kiosks, so I made it through that part of the process quickly.

Security was another matter. It took about a half-hour to get to the front of the line and get through the screening.

By the time I was through, it was about 6 p.m., which meant I had thus far spent 2 hours, 15 minutes just to get from Colorado Springs to my gate at DIA.

And now I was much too early for the flight.

Two cocktails and $18 later, I was finally in my seat and the jet took off. We landed in Indianapolis shortly before 10 p.m. Mountain.

Was it awful? Nah. But it wasn’t the most efficient way to get to my destination.

Between the gas and the wear and tear on my Jeep, the time wasted on the drive, the parking and the drinks, I would have been much better off taking a connecting flight from the Springs.

I would have spent no more than 15 minutes getting there from the office.

Parking would have cost $6 a day.

The walk to the terminal and ticket counters is a breeze, and clearing security would likely have taken no longer than it usually does, 10 minutes or so.

Also, the airlines that serve the airport are increasingly replacing props with jets.

Now if only Frontier would start parking my connecting flight at DIA closer to my arrival gate.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Reach him at 719-329-5206 or allen.greenberg@csbj.com.

4 Responses to Airport wars: Why flying out of DIA is for the birds

  1. I fly into Denver twice a month and drive to CS. Usually its a “turn around” trip. I catch the earliest flight in the morning from home and the last flight out of DIA. It gives me the most time (which equals more time back at home with my family) in CS and saves me the most money. CS has a limited number of flights and I would have to connect to DEN anyways (which means more time sitting around in BOTH airports). I have to rent a car which I would have to do in CS or DEN. Plus the rental car companies do a pick up/drop off right in front of DIA so I do not have to worry about parking in a lot. The only issue is the snow in the winter, which affects both DEN and CS. And, in DEN I always get a larger 737 plane versus a “crop duster” turbo prop in CS (which are no fun flying over the rockies).

    Shawn Shaw
    June 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm

  2. My wife and I flew out of DIA the same Friday as Mr. Greenberg, albeit at 12:30pm. We live in Monument and left the house a mere 3 hours before our flight. We stopped in Castle Rock to board our pets and then drove 225 to Peña Blvd. We parked in the west economy lot because the signs on the way to the terminal distinctly said the east economy lot was full. Yes we did have a long walk (no shuttle in sight), but we checked in at Southwest (on the east side) and moved through security in about 10 minutes. We even had a chance to grab some food before our flight.

    My wife and I are experienced flyers and have no issue negotiating airports around the country. We both feel that DIA is the best one for amenities and convenience.

    Would we fly out of Colorado Springs given the chance? YES! But the routes are limited and there are no direct flights to one of our regular destinations, Houston-Hobby.

    I travel for business many times each year. I do enjoy flying out of Colorado Springs, but many times the departure times are inconvenient. It is usually more convenient to drive to DIA and catch a flight at a time that better fits my schedule.

    Rob Giacolono
    June 6, 2010 at 9:55 pm

  3. I live in Woodland Park and fly frequently. The long drive, high cost of parking, and hassle of security lines all make flying out of Denver less desirable than flying out of the Springs. Since I fly to DC about every 8 weeks I was thrilled to learn that United is now flying direct from COS to Dulles. Thank you United!

    Wendy Mack
    June 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm

  4. Rob Giacolono wrote:

    “Would we fly out of Colorado Springs given the chance? YES! But the routes are limited and there are no direct flights to one of our regular destinations…”

    Exactly. Why take the shuttle flight from COS to DIA, When you can take an easy drive on E-470 and skip another (albeit short) flight in an uncomfortable seat? Although a lot of folks fly out of COS, for me the slogan for the C.S. Airport should be: “You can’t get there from here”.

    RustyBuffalo
    June 8, 2010 at 12:50 pm