DIA finishes 39-gate expansion, opening new areas for United Airlines

Denver International Airport celebrated the completion Friday of its final two major concourse projects from a program that has added 39 gates over the last four years — the largest expansion since DIA opened 27 years ago.

The bright, airy extension on the east end of Concourse B, which United Airlines began using late last month, added seven new gates, plus larger replacements for three gates that served smaller jets. On the west end of Concourse A, a much larger expansion added 530,000 square feet of cavernous new space housing a dozen new gates, remade waiting areas for a handful of existing gates and a new upper-level United Club that’s still being finished.

United, DIA’s top-ranking carrier by market share, has leased all 19 new gates in those two expansions, along with four gates it snapped up in Concourse B’s west-end extension, which opened two years ago.

No. 2 Southwest Airlines leased 16 gates that opened at the east end of Concourse C in May. All of the projects made use of room in DIA’s original design for extensions of its three parallel concourses.

United President Brett Hart lauded DIA’s growth mindset as the airline’s footprint expands to 90 gates. DIA has become the airline’s largest U.S. hub in recent years, and United also has been expanding its pilot training center in the Central Park neighborhood — making it the largest such facility in the world, he said.

“We expect over the next several years to increase our employee base from 8,000 to 11,000,” Hart said. “And that is an indication of not only our commitment to the city of Denver, but our appreciation of the fact that growth is absolutely on the table, both domestically and internationally, here.”

He joined airport CEO Phil Washington and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in cutting a ribbon Friday afternoon in the Concourse A endcap, near an outdoor patio for passengers that looks towards the mountains. United plans to begin using the newest A gates in coming days.

“Having just come off of a European trip, I can tell you that what we’re seeing here is what we see throughout some of the best and grandest airports around Europe,” Hancock told a crowd of airport and airline employees, city officials and contractor representatives. “And I can tell you that commitment to continue to grow and pump investments in this airport … is bringing the international community to our region.”

United, which uses Denver as a key connecting city in its network, has said it plans to increase its flight schedule out of DIA by 50% in the next few years, to nearly 700 departures, with even more growth possible after that.

  • People walk past gate A-19, part of the new A-west concourse expansion at Denver International Airport Nov. 04, 2022. DIA held a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the new gates. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • The new A-West concourse expansion at Denver International Airport Nov. 04, 2022. DIA held a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the new gates on the west end of the A concourse and east end of the B concourse. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • Floors get polished in the A-west concourse expansion at Denver International Airport Nov. 04, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington speaks during a ribbon cutting event at the new A-West concourse Nov. 04, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • United Airlines President, Brett Hart, left, talks with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock during a ribbon cutting ceremony at Denver International Airport to celebrate the new gates on the west end of the A concourse and east end of the B concourse. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • Seats in the new outdoor deck in the A-west concourse expansion at the Denver International Airport Nov. 04, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • Tablet kiosks at a United gate, part of the new A-west concourse expansion at the Denver International Airport November 04, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • Waiting area at a gate in the new A-West concourse at Denver International Airport Nov. 04, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

  • Pet relief area in the new outdoor deck which is part of the A-west concourse expansion at the Denver International Airport Nov. 04, 2022. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

But there are challenges for DIA: United’s connecting traffic between its longtime home on Concourse B and its growing collection of gates on Concourse A is one dynamic putting more strain on the airport’s underground concourse train as officials try to keep up with capacity demands.

DIA’s concourse expansion program began with a budget of $1.5 billion when it broke ground in mid-2018. Additional concourse-related work and finishing touches finalized once the airlines claimed the new gates later raised the price tag to $2.4 billion.

Most construction work went smoothly — save for a late hiccup on Concourse B. In December, the east-end addition was the site of a hot-water pipe break that caused flooding and significant damage just as the project was supposed to wrap up. Repairs, along with insurance claims, delayed the opening until late October.

For passengers, the new gate areas that have opened on each concourse offer more comfortable seating, more charging stations and nicer bathrooms. Still to come on A and B are new food and retail outlets that will open in coming months. And the newest spaces are still a little blank, but public art is in the works.

The airport, which ranked third in the world in passenger traffic last year due to a quick pandemic recovery, is hardly done growing.

A massive, drawn-out renovation of its terminal building — the cause of most of DIA’s project-related problems — is at least five more years from being finished. And work just began on a 14-gate facility for Frontier Airlines that is replacing temporary commuter-jet gates.

DIA’s third-ranking carrier is expected to relocate to the new ground-level facility at the east end of Concourse A in early 2024, with passengers loading and deplaning directly on the tarmac.

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