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"Critics Attack DIA Blizzard Response"


 
Monday, December 25, 2006

Finger-pointing a lively activity after DIA closure
By Joe Garner
The Denver (CO) Rocky Mountain News 


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 Peņa 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. 

For most travelers, Christmas Eve was bustling at DIA, full of noisy
reunions, but also full of rows and rows of suitcases waiting to be reunited
with their owners. 

"We left California at 8 this morning. We had a nearly perfect flight," said
Cindy Vandesteeg, of Chino, Calif. "We're here to see my son for Christmas.
He should be waiting for us outside." 

For Kay Millette, of Los Altos, Calif., a two-day delay in arriving in
Denver was small price for having her family together for Christmas. 

"I would have been devastated if I hadn't made it," she said. "I lost a son
in 1993, and my children are my life."

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