DIA After The Blizzard: A Schmuck’s Eye View

So I was going to blog the Boulder Theater after catching first The New Cars and then Bonerama (“Shake Your Groovilator”) with Cyril Neville’s Tribe 13 (“We are the Wild Tchoupitoulas–get out the way!”) at that venue. And I was going to blog the Cinema Grill in Aurora after catching The Prestige there before it disappeared from theaters entirely. But I got behind on the blogging thing, and then, well, snow.

Just a wee little bit of snow. A mere… oh… 18 inches to 3 feet, depending on where you were.

Saw enough people skiing cross-country-style up and down 30th Street in Boulder on Thursday, the day after the blizzard, that it stopped striking me as unusual. Fell over in a few snow drifts carrying my groceries home. Saw the expected handful of cars stuck trying to turn left through the waist-high bank the plows built up in the middle of the street.

And then there was the matter of my husband and I making our flight to New Orleans.

So, you know about DIA being closed by the blizzard (PDF link), right? Closed from Wednesday afternoon until Friday at noon. And the thing that would not have been a surprise to me if I’d stopped to think about it was, once the airport reopens, things don’t just go from closed to normal in Oh-Point-Two. If you’ve got a flight at 7:00 PM on Friday, it’s a little naive to think–as we did–“ah, that’s OK, we should be fine.” Not with all the people stranded at the airport due to canceled connections. Not with all the people finally able to drive down newly reopened Peña Boulevard to pick up their friends and family. Not with everyone trying to get to the gates to standby themselves onto replacement flights after their original reservations got snowed out.

Add rush hour traffic and Christmas weekend traveling to the mix, and you have a lot of fun. Oh yeah. Fun! If I say “fun!” enough, I may just begin to believe it!

Here’s the kinds of fun we had. First off, it took two hours to get from Boulder to DIA, starting at 4:30 PM and knowing that our flight had been delayed until 8:15 PM. Highway 36 was as clogged and slow-moving as usual. No surprises there. It was the stoppage on I-270 backed up almost to 36 that make us start to get white-knuckled. We crawled at about two miles an hour all the way to I-70, where things sped up again for a little while. When we hit the jam on Peña and began the final 8-mile slog, we were relieved to hear that our flight was now delayed until 9:02 PM.

At the airport, we were relieved to be able to use curb-side check-in to avoid the lines at the ticket counter. And when the Burger King, Taco Bell, and Panda Express all had lines stretching down the mezzanine, we counted ourselves lucky that we preferred Dominos that evening. (Dominos does subs these days. But apparently you have to specifically tell them that you want lettuce when you order a BLT, or you won’t get any L.) And of course we could see that the security lines were bad from the bridge, bad enough that TV cameras were rolling and interviewers were stopping people to get their reactions. What we couldn’t see was that the security lines went out the back and around the luggage carousels clear to the opposite “end-zone” and beyond. And that the reason Dominos had so few customers waiting at the counter upstairs was free large cheese pizzas were floating around downstairs, as someone with money had taken pity on all us schmucks in line.

At some point, airport staff directed us from one security line to the other in order to more evenly distribute the pain, which cut our wait from two hours to about 45 minutes. We got to our gate just in time to board! Except now departure was delayed to 9:15, and then 9:35… because one of the four flight attendants was having a hard time reporting for duty through all the traffic. Then they managed to “rustle up” a replacement flight attendant. But then, even as they were calling for Group 2 to board the aircraft, it came out that one of the other flight attendants had “gone illegal.” (This means that they could not legally fly any more hours in the current 24-hour period, and not, as I had first surmised, that they had gotten drunk while waiting for airplanes to start flying again.)

At this point a woman standing to my left sort of exploded. She’d been stuck at DIA for three days, and now she thought she was seeing her last hope of escape melting away. I think “nervous breakdown” is the right phrase here. The poor lady kept saying “I can’t take anymore of this,” and sobbing. The flight crew tried to calm her down.

Finally another replacement flight attendant arrived on the scene (to a standing ovation by the crowd waiting to fly) and boarding commenced for real. We took off at last: at 10:35 PM.

And you know what? I’m still amazed we flew at all. I cannot fathom how an airport the size of DIA gets cleared, even to the point of two runways functional, in only some 30 hours after the snow of the worst blizzard of the year stops falling. We were lucky to escape on our scheduled flight at all–a good friend of ours was scheduled to fly Thursday morning, and now she won’t be able to fly until after Christmas. But we did manage to escape, and today we were wandering all over my parent’s Metairie neighborhood in short sleeves. Definitely lucky.

Edited to add: Here’s my husband’s take on the experience, complete with certain details I had seemed to have repressed at the time of writing this, such as the total non-functionalness of our car, SuperShuttle’s Boulder pick-up line, and the RTD.

We’ll be back in Denver on January 2, at which point I’ll catch up with the other blogging subjects I kept meaning to cover. Until then, I’ll be doing a bit of guest blogging at New Orleans Metblogs. See y’all there.

10 Comments so far

  1. Kath (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 8:20 pm

    Saw hi to ‘The Boot’ for me.

  2. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 9:15 pm

    I’ll do my best!

  3. Elle (unregistered) on December 24th, 2006 @ 9:21 am

    I had envisioned the mess inside the airport that my husband would encounter when he returned to Denver last night – but I never anticipated that I would have to spend two hours going around the passenger pickup circuit. Glad to hear that you made it out!

  4. John (unregistered) on December 24th, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

    We flew out saturday morning. Got there with 3.5 hours to spare, made it with 20 minutes to spare from boarding. What a mess. By 8am, Saturday, the line for security was still wrapped around the terminal, and the A walkway and security checkpoint was closed.

    Our flight sat at the jetway for an hour after we were supposed to take off, to pick up any person we could that wanted to go to Portland…

    The upsde, Frontier turned the DirectTV on for free during the flight LOL.

    Glad you made it where you were going.

  5. dicker (unregistered) on December 26th, 2006 @ 6:32 am

    I had a similar experience to John’s on Saturday afternoon. I read the Post and The Rocky and they quoted DIA folks as saying that one need arrive 2 hours ahead of time, when they really meant four. Oh well. Made the flight. THen United lost our bags, which came during Christmas dinner. I will now go and perform a badly needed underwear change…

  6. Michelle (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 9:49 am

    I had no idea that you were flying out on Friday.

    Just remember I live very close to DIA…so if you needed to crash or get stuck you are welcome at my place.

    We’re supposed to get 8 more inches by Friday.

  7. John (unregistered) on December 27th, 2006 @ 10:26 am

    yeah just saw on CNN, that CO is expecting more. Now we have to decide if we need to fly home a day early. We fly home Friday.


  8. John (unregistered) on December 28th, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

    we ended up flying home today instead of tomorrow. We weren’t alone, a lot of the passengers had flights later today or tomorrow and had rescheduled to this morning.

  9. Amanda (unregistered) on December 28th, 2006 @ 9:51 pm

    My family just moved here and my flight was delayed until Christmas morning. I’m supposed to fly back to LA on Saturday morning. I’m doubting it’s going to happen, though. Any ideas on when the best time to rebook is?

  10. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little (unregistered) on December 29th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    Thanks for the good wishes, all–Michelle, we may end up taking you up on that if circumstances so conspire. Condolences to everyone still in the area for it happening all over again this week. I’m keeping an eye on the weather reports to try to figure out if we’re going to manage to fly back on time.

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