Denver International Airport (DEN IATA) is the main airport serving the Denver region of Colorado, USA. Commonly referred to as DIA, the airport is set amidst rolling plains about 18 miles (29 km) northeast of Downtown Denver and is one of the busiest airports in the nation.
As of 2018, Denver is the 20th busiest airport in the world and the 5th busiest in the U.S. by passenger traffic. It is the main gateway into the Rocky Mountains and the Interior West of the United States. The airport was opened in 1995, replacing the old Stapleton airport that was closer to the city. It was built on an expansive plot of land that would give the airport plenty of room to grow if necessary—indeed, Denver is the largest airport in the country by total land area. The airport is notable for its unusual aesthetics and architecture, with a single centralized terminal with its distinctive peaked roof, and has become the subject of conspiracy theories.
Three major American airlines operate hubs in Denver and manage the most flights into/out of the airport: Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines, the latter of which is a low-cost carrier headquartered in Denver. Southwest dominates Concourse C, United occupies the entirety of Concourse B, and Frontier has a major presence in Concourse A.
Many other airlines, including all other major airlines operating in the U.S., also serve Denver with flights to their respective hubs in addition to flights offered through Codeshare. Almost all of these airlines are housed in Concourse A, and include: Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Allegiant Air, American, British Airways, Cayman Airways, Copa Airlines, Delta, Edelweiss, Icelandair, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Norwegian Air, Sun Country, Volaris, WestJet, as well as commuter services by Boutique Air and Denver Air Connection. Additionally, Alaska Airlines and Spirit Airlines have gates in Concourse C.
By public transit
RTD, the regional public transit service, connects the airport to Union Station and other points downtown with the A Line, a relatively fast, efficient and reliable train. It runs every 15 minutes at peak times and every 30 minutes at off-peak (from approximately 4AM to 1:30AM), and it takes about half an hour to get to Union Station. It costs $10.50 to get downtown; this fare also includes a day pass for unlimited travel on local transit (including back to the airport if you are only going to Denver for the day). The train is cheaper than a taxi, and if you intend to use public transit during your stay anyway, the $10.50 day pass is a good value for your money and certainly a cheaper option than a rental car plus gas plus parking. The Denver area has expanded its public transit system, and it's starting to pay off.
For places not easily reached by the rail system, RTD's SkyRide coach service offers three bus routes that connect the airport to Boulder, Thornton, and the Denver Tech Center, serving many "Park and Ride" lots in the region. SkyRide coaches are equipped to handle luggage. Fare is the same as the train—$10.50 one-way, although the "Regional/Airport Day Pass" costs the same and covers unlimited trips on the RTD system for the remainder of the day.
The Transit Center is at the southern end of the terminal, beneath the Westin Hotel. A set of long escalators connect Level 5 of the terminal to the transit center. As you get to the bottom of the escalator, the train platform will be directly in front of you while the Skyride bus stop will be behind you. Ticket vending machines and transit info are available in the Transit Center; RTD's airport page offers more detailed information.
The major rental car agencies are represented at the airport. Counters are located on Level 5, in the middle of the main hall. The lots are along Peña Blvd west of the airport; courtesy shuttles to the lots pick up from Level 5 of the terminal.
Parking garages flank the terminal on both the west and east sides. The garages are connected to the building and cost $24/day or $3/hour; short-term parking is located with the part of the garage closest to the terminal and costs $4/hour. Economy lots are beyond the garages and cost $13/day or $3/hour. Valet parking is also available. For those waiting to pick up passengers, a free cell phone waiting lot is located at 7680 N. Wenatchee St., off Peña Blvd about three miles west of the airport. The cell phone waiting lot even has an indoor waiting area, with a couple of fast food restaurants, restrooms, free Wi-Fi, and flight information.
Despite its size, the airport is laid out in a very straightforward manner. There is only one terminal, the Jeppesen Terminal, which contains all ticketing, baggage claim, security, and ground transportation facilities. After passing through security, an underground train connects the terminal to the three concourses, A, B, and C, where the gates are located. Concourse A is also connected to the terminal by a pedestrian bridge.
Jeppesen Terminal is separated into west and east sides, with parking lots, garages, and roadways flanking the terminal on both sides. The terminal has six floors, although Levels 1-4 are primarily used for parking, with Level 4 also used for passenger pickup. Level 5 is the primary floor, with the expansive main hall, baggage claim areas on the west and east sides, taxi/shuttle services, and parking. Level 5 also has the two main security checkpoints, one each at the north and south ends of the main hall, which lead to the underground train. Level 6 holds passenger drop off, the ticketing/check-in counters, a food court overlooking the main hall, and the pedestrian bridge to Concourse A (which has its own, lightly-used security checkpoint).
Due to the security screening process, it can take up to an hour to get from the ticket line to the gate, so travelers should get to the airport at least 1½ hours before their scheduled departure time.
- Every airport offers the opportunity to watch planes, but this one has something unique: the pedestrian bridge past security that connects Jeppesen Terminal to Concourse A spans an active taxiway, giving you the rare opportunity to watch an airplane travel underneath you.
The airport is noted for its extensive and very eclectic art collection, with pieces ranging from delightful to strange to downright frightening. Jeppesen Terminal has most of the more notable (and notorious) works, which are spread throughout the terminal. Travelers arriving in the terminal via the train from the concourses are greeted by Experimental Aviation, a set of brightly colored paper airplanes suspended from the ceiling that lead arrivals from the train platform up into the main hall of the terminal. The expansive main hall is a sight in and of itself, allowing you to look up at the inside of the terminal's unusual roof. A statue of the terminal's namesake, early aviator Elrey Jeppesen, stands in the middle of the arrivals hall; there's also an exhibit on Jeppesen on the top floor at the north end of the terminal. Baggage Claims 3 and 16 are home to Notre Denver, a pair of bronze gargoyles perched within suitcases which watch over the floor. At the north end of the terminal, on the west side of the main hall, is an art gallery that hosts changing art exhibitions.
At the entrance to the airport, along Peña Blvd, stands what is perhaps Denver's most infamous artwork: Blue Mustang, a colossal 30-foot sculpture of a brightly-colored horse rearing up on its hind legs. The piece has a troubled history; during its creation, a portion of the sculpture collapsed and killed its creator, Luis Jiménez. Since its installation, the statue's fierce stance and glowing red eyes has led to locals dubbing it the "Devil Horse" and "Blucifer". Look for it as you drive towards the airport—it's hard to miss.
Past security, there's plenty more interesting artwork to look at while you're waiting for your flight. Both train tunnels hold more kinetic pieces: the outbound tunnel (leading away from the terminal) contains a series of propellers embedded in the wall which spin as the train rushes past; a Kinetic Air Light Curtain if you will. Going the other way, the inbound tunnel holds illuminated panels and animated sculptural forms in Deep Time / Deep Space, A Subterranean Journey. Train Call is a series of jingles of railroad standards that play before announcements are made on the train. The main atrium of each of the concourses hold monumental pieces that are worth viewing: Concourse A has Dual Meridian, a massive sculptural work of train tracks, a world map, and abstract Space Age forms towering over the train platform. Concourse B holds Beaded Circle Crossing, a four-legged archway at the center of the concourse that resembles a cross between a Native American tipi and the Eiffel Tower. The train platform at Concourse B has a statue of Jack Swigert, a Denver native who was an astronaut on board Apollo 13 and who successfully maneuvered the crippled ship back to Earth. Lastly, Concourse C has a terraced Garden overlooking the train platform, with ferns, stonework, and cast concrete panels that give the work the appearance of a ruined Mayan temple.
The airport's unusual architecture and artwork, coupled with its relatively isolated location and massive size, has spawned a series of bizarre conspiracy theories, with some people suggesting ties to everything from the Illuminati to the New World Order, while others have asserted that the true purpose of the airport is to serve as a concentration camp or a secret military base—or, alternatively, a sanctuary for elites following some sort of global disaster. Over the years, the conspiracy theories have taken on a life of their own, with some airport workers even taking part in pranks and planting further "evidence" of untoward goings-on at the airport. The airport itself has gotten to semi-jokingly asking the "question" what they are building when remodeling is going on, giving outrageous answer possibilities as well as the more banal "building new shops and amenities".
The main points of interest for conspiracy theorists are in Jeppesen Terminal, before security, so you'll have to set aside some time before your flight if you want to conduct your own search for the truth. Central to many of the theories is the Freemason symbol on a dedication plaque at the terminal's south entrance (near the Westin Hotel and RTD train station). The stone plaque, which contains a time capsule, is indeed stamped with a Freemason symbol as well as a reference to a now-defunct "New World Airport Commission"; which conspiracy theorists have pointed to as proof of a connection to the New World Order. Other symbols can be found stamped on the floor of the main hall, which were intended as references to Colorado's history and Native American heritage, though that hasn't stopped conspiracy theorists from taking away darker meanings.
The other focal point for conspiracy theorists are a pair of murals by Leo Tanguma, both on the main floor of the terminal tucked into a pair of hallways that connect the main hall to the baggage claim areas. One, In Peace and Harmony with Nature, depicts environmental destruction and the extinction of life, followed by a rebirth in which children and animals celebrate the planet's renewal. The other, Children of the World Dream of Peace, depicts the horrors of war before the children of the world usher in a new era of peace—pretty heavy subject matter for an airport piece. Additionally, some of the other artworks mentioned above, especially Blue Mustang and Notre Denver, have gotten wrapped up in all the conspiracy theories around the airport. Judge for yourself what it all means.
Eat and drink
Like any other airport, food choices tend toward the mundane and overpriced, with many of the big American fast food chains present. However, DIA does offer a slightly more varied selection of eateries than most airports. There are food courts in the center of all three concourses and on the top floor of Jeppesen Terminal. The Jeppesen food court is before security. Concourses B and C offer the widest selection of eateries.
The airport offers four free water bottle filling stations at every concourse. If you're looking for a caffeine fix, Caribou Coffee has locations in the terminal and every concourse, while Starbucks has a pair of shops in Concourse B and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has a location near gate C29.
Nearly all eateries open at around 5-7AM and close around 9-11PM, with specific times varying by eatery. 24-hour options are limited to a Burger King (+1 303 342-8444) and an Einstein Bros. Bagels (+1 303 994-6960) on the top floor of Jeppesen Terminal and a McDonald's (+1 303 342-9048) in the center of Concourse A.
- Grill & Vine (Hotel & transit center, level 5), ☏ . 6AM-11PM daily, bar 11AM-midnight daily. Bar & grill with an outdoor patio.
- Elway's (Concourse B center), ☏ . 7AM-11PM daily. A signature Denver steakhouse, offering steaks, rack of lamb, and burgers. Breakfast available, as is take-out.
- Root Down (Concourse C center), ☏ . 7AM-9PM daily. Excellent farm-to-table food such as sweet chili duck wings or turkey bahn mi sandwich. Wide selection of craft beers and wonderful cocktails. Booths offer some nice seclusion, so you can focus on contemplating the decor made from vintage suitcases stuck to the wall, globes on the ceiling, and old airplane wings.
Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport, and battery charging stations are abundant.
For laptops, on the main level 5 by baggage claim, there are nearly zero 120 V AC outlets on the west side. There are wall outlets on the east side.
- There's an Interfaith Chapel and Prayer Hall open 24 hours a day located in Jeppesen Terminal, on the east side of Level 6.
- Currency exchange services are provided by three World Wide Money Exchange locations in the airport, one each in Jeppesen Terminal (Level 5), Concourse A, and Concourse B.
- There are several airline lounges located in the airport. American Airlines, British Airways, and Delta have lounges in Concourse A, at the north end of the pedestrian bridge. United Airlines has two lounges in Concourse B, one near Gate B30 and the other near Gate B44.
- USO Lounge, Concourse A, north end of pedestrian bridge, ☏ . Daily 5AM-10PM. The USO has a center behind security for military personnel, with a television lounge, library, family services, food service and computers.
- A Massage, Concourse A center core and Concourse B mezzanine, ☏ . Daily 7AM-9PM. Chair and table massage services.
- XpresSpa, Concourse C center core and near Gate C30, ☏ . Daily 6AM-10PM. Personal care services including men’s and women’s facials, waxing, manicures, pedicures, hair styling/cuts and massages.
- 1 Westin Denver Airport, 8300 Peña Boulevard, ☏ , toll-free: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. The only hotel attached to the airport, it is housed in a distinctive glass-clad building at the southern end of the terminal above the airport transit center. On-site restaurant, lounge, and conference facilities.
Most airport hotels are located several miles to the west along Tower Road, off Peña Boulevard. Virtually all of them run shuttle buses to the airport; hotel shuttles pick up from Jeppesen Terminal Level 5, island 3, outside doors 505-507 (east side) and 510-512 (west side).
- 2 Courtyard Denver Airport, 6901 Tower Rd, ☏ , fax: . Free 24-hour shuttle service to & from the airport.
- 3 Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Airport, 7001 Yampa St, ☏ . Full-service hotel six miles from the airport. Complimentary 24-hour airport shuttle.
- 4 Hampton Inn Denver-International Airport, 6290 Tower Rd, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Five minutes' drive from airport, offers free breakfast, internet and free airport transport.