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Guide to Denver International Airport (DEN)

Known locally as DIA (Denver International Airport) and predominantly serving the Denver area of Colorado State, Denver Airport (DEN) covers more than 33,000 acres of land making it the largest airfield in North America. Located 25 miles (40 km) from the heart of Denver City, the airport is closer to Aurora City where many of the airport-related services are located.

Opened relatively recently in 1995, Denver International currently runs services to more than 215 destinations across America and around the world and caters to around 25 airlines. It is a major hub of operations for both Frontier Airlines and United Airlines as well as an important base for Southwest Airlines.

In recent years Denver International has consistently ranked amongst the top ten busiest airports in America and in the world's top twenty.

Denver airport has the IATA (International Air Transport Association) designation code DEN.

DEN Airport History

Denver International Airport was built to replace the now defunct Stapleton International Airport which could no longer handle the ever-increasing volume of air traffic. In the 1960's Stapleton was the sixth-busiest airport in the United States but cramped terminal buildings and tightly packed runways allowed no room for expansion as delays and disruptions became the norm.

By the early 1980's the situation had become critical and the Denver Regional Council began to explore the possibility of building a completely new airport from scratch. In 1983 the new mayor of Denver, Federico Peña, wanted to expand the existing Stapleton Airport but the plan was vetoed by civil leaders in neighbouring Adams County due to noise pollution concerns.

An agreement was reached with Adams County residents and officials in 1988 whereby a new airport could be built on a new site 25 miles from Denver City and construction began in late 1989. Originally scheduled to open for business in 1993, delays caused the opening day to be deferred first until December of 1993 and then to March of 1994. However, further delays and a strike saw this pushed back, yet again, until May of the same year. Opened in May for the Denver press corps to preview, the new airport's much heralded automated baggage handling system failed to function properly with baggage, clothing and personal effects being thrown from the carousels and scattered across the floor. Finally, a full sixteen months behind schedule and almost $2 billion over budget, Denver International Airport was officially opened in February of 1995.

As Denver had replaced the busy Stapleton Airport, business was brisk from the outset and expansion soon became necessary. A sixth runway was added in 2003 which, at 16,000 feet, could accommodate the extremely large Boeing 747-8 and Airbus A380 for take-off and landing.

Having previously refused to use Denver Airport due to a dispute over fees, Southwest Airlines began operating out of the airport in 2006. Southwest has expanded its operations at DEN over the last number of years and is now the second-largest airline flying out of Denver Airport behind United Airlines.

Ongoing Improvements

In the last fifteen years a new hotel and transit center have been built at the airport and commuter trains began running between Denver Airport and and Union Station in 2016. Further development began in 2018 as the Jeppesen Terminal was entirely renovated and reconfigured to update the ticketing and check-in areas and relocate some security checkpoints.

Development of the concourses and the Jeppesen Terminal is an ongoing process at Denver International with no definitive finishing date but, when complete, DEN should be capable of comfortably handling more than 100 million passengers a year.

DEN Airport Layout

Despite its size and the volume of air traffic, Denver International Airport has only one terminal building which houses a mere three concourses. The Jeppesen Terminal, named after Elrey Borge Jeppesen an aviation safety pioneer, is divided into two sections: Terminal East and Terminal West.

The three concourses, denoted A, B and C contain a total of 179 gates allocated as follows:

Concourse A – 60 gates
Concourse B – 72 gates
Concourse C – 47 gates

Concourse A can be reached by a pedestrian bridge from the terminal building while the other concourses must be accessed by the airport train which serves all of the three concourses. All international passengers (who have not been pre-cleared) are processed through immigration and customs at Concourse A.

International Arrivals to DEN

Passengers on international flights arriving at Denver Airport enter through the A gates. From here they are channelled into the Jeppesen Terminal where the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) desks are located. This is where all passports and visas are checked and a number of routine questions pertaining to the visit may be asked by the CBP agent on duty.

VWP Travelers

Citizens of countries on the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are required to possess a valid passport which has ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) approval. This is a digital form of visa which shows up when a passport is scanned and is available to nationals from 41 countries which include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.

Visa-Required Travelers

Citizens of countries who are not eligible or, who have been denied an ESTA, must instead possess a U.S. Visa which has been issued by an American embassy or consulate.

Holders of ESTA approved passports will usually clear immigration with just a scan but U.S. Visa holders must personally present the passport and visa for scrutiny and also answer a number of questions pertaining to the visit. This will inevitably lengthen the time spent in queues and eventual clearance to proceed.

Once through immigration, international travelers will move to the baggage reclaim area. Any items of food, plant or biological material must be declared to the customs official on duty as should any items on the prohibited list laid out by U.S. authorities. Travelers on a visa must complete a customs declaration form (usually in flight) and this should be presented to the official on duty. A customs declaration form is not required for visitors using an ESTA.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

As there is only one terminal building and three concourses, moving around Denver International Airport is a fairly simple matter. Concourse A is closest to the terminal and can be reached on foot while Concourses B and C are further away and require a short rail trip on the airport's Automated Guideway Transit System which also connects to Concourse A. Trains depart every 2 or 3 minutes during peak times and travel time should be a maximum of three minutes for even the longest trips.

Getting to and from Denver Airport can be done in a number of ways:


The Regional Transportation District (RTD) A Line train runs approximately every fifteen minutes from Union Station in downtown Denver to the airport. From Union Station there are onward connections available via regional and local buses, light rail and Amtrak.


RTD also run the airport express SkyRide from Boulder and Arapahoe County as well as Route 104L to and from Thornton. Two other RTD buses, Route 145X and 169L, operate from the Denver suburb of Brighton and the city of Aurora respectively.


Visitors who don't mind sharing and, are on a budget, can avail of one of the many shuttle buses or vans that can be booked at Denver International Airport.

Taxis and Ride Share

Taxis and Uber cars to and from the airport are not cheap but they are plentiful and taxi stands can be found outside both the East and West sections of the Jeppesen Terminal building.