Denver, CO

5 insider tricks you need to know before your next flight at DIA

Brittany Anas

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With construction projects and COVID protocols, traveling now requires more planning.Denver International Airport

(Denver, Colo.) Frequent travelers out of Denver International Airport share an inside joke: “Be like DIA, never stop working on yourself.”

The airport, which opened in 1995, has become the third busiest airport in the world. To keep pace with its growth, construction projects at DIA began in 2018, and airport officials expect renovations to continue through at least 2028.

When you consider construction hassles plus COVID requirements for international trips and combine that with the fact you may not have traveled much due to the ongoing pandemic — navigating the airport can feel trickier than ever.

Here are five insider tips to make traveling through DIA easier:

No. 1: Know which security line you need to use

In the past, both the North and South security checkpoints had TSA Pre-Check lanes. That’s no longer the case.

TSA Precheck passengers and TSA Precheck passengers with Clear should use the North Security Checkpoint. Security officials will route you to the South Security Checkpoint if you don't have Precheck. The North Security Checkpoint is open from approximately 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The South Security Checkpoint is for standard screening travelers. There is also an expedited Clear lane for those who pay for the private service but don’t have TSA Pre-Check. The South Security checkpoint is the 24-hour checkpoint and may be the only one available if you go through security between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

The A-Bridge Security Checkpoint offers standard screening and is typically open from 4:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you’re curious what security lines look like before you arrive at the airport, check out real-time wait times here.

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Travelers with TSA Precheck now need to use DIA's North Security Checkpoint.Denver International Airport

No. 2: You can get a rapid COVID test at the airport

Several international destinations require negative COVID-19 tests before you enter the country, and some require Standard Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests.

If you’re traveling to a destination with that requirement, the airline will not issue you a boarding pass until you present your negative test result.

Because rapid PCR tests can be somewhat difficult to obtain in the Denver metro area, you can take the test at the airport—but this requires a good deal of planning ahead as the test results can take up to an hour to process.

DIA has two testing centers: One is located in the Jeppesen Terminal, Level 5 west, next to Boulder Beer. The second is located post-security at the center of Concourse B, but you’ll need a boarding pass to access this location.

XpresCheck offers PCR tests for $175 with results taking three to five days. However, the RT-PCR test ($250) results are available in 45-60 minutes. Both of the Xpres check locations offer the rapid tests.

Both locations are open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. You need to make an appointment online here. You also need to create an account ahead of time to access your results via an online dashboard. You can also get printed results.

No. 3: Know where to meet your Uber driver

Both Uber and Lyft service the airport and the rideshare companies now conducti drop offs and pickups on Level 5.

When you request a ride from the airport, meet your driver on Island 5 of Level 5. When you order the ride, pay attention to whether you’re on the east (signage is blue) or west (signage is red) side of the terminal. There are lettered pick up zones on Island 5 to help your driver locate you.

Also, wait until after you’ve claimed your baggage to order a ride because drivers typically arrive within three to 10 minutes, which is often quicker than your luggage.

No. 4: Restaurants have limited hours

You may want to pack a snack or meal if you’re traveling through DIA early in the morning or late at night.

Many of the food vendors operate on reduced hours and most close by 10 p.m. You can find which restaurants and bars are open at the different concourses here.

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Denver Central Market has a mini outpost on the A concourse.Denver International Airport

Many restaurants now offer to deliver food to you at your gate.

More restaurants (including several local favorites) are coming to DIA later in 2022-23. Here’s a rundown of the three dozen restaurants that will make their airport debut in the next couple of years.

No. 5: Entertaining your kids while you travel

DIA doesn’t currently have a kid’s play area, but if you're traveling with little ones the airport has some aviation-themed activities that you can pack to keep your kids entertained while you await your flight. You’ll need to gather up your supplies and print-outs before heading to the airport, though.

Kazoo & Company Toy Store on the Mezzanine level of the B Gates that sells books and educational toys. Or, beloved ice cream shop Little Man Ice Cream has an outpost near Gate C27. DIA also offers a coloring book template you can print out to keep kids busy on the flight.

A final note: If you are turned around in the airport or have a question, find a volunteer in a purple vest. They are encyclopedias of airport knowledge and can point you to the right security line, help you find your baggage carousel, direct you to parking and more.

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Brittany is a journalist in the Denver metro area with more than two decades of writing and editing experience. She covers travel, restaurants and other lifestyle topics.

Westminster, CO
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