The sterile and expensive Denver International Airport

November 6, 2022 • 1:30 pm

You know what really bothers me?

I have to cool my heels at DIA for several hours before catching a flight back to Chicago, and I swear that I’ve never seen a more sterile airport in my life.  There are long, soul-less corridors of gates, with nary a nom to be found unless you take a long hike towards Baggage Claim. The place may be efficient, but it provides little comfort.

Here are two panoramas of the corridor (click to enlarge):

Can you name a more sterile airport?

Well, at least the restrooms are clean. But the restaurant is also victim of another pet peeve: overpriced food. After you hike a mile to find something to eat, what’s on offer is grossly overpriced food.

Now all airports (like ballparks and movie theaters) have overpriced food, but it’s gotten worse since the pandemic.  One could explain this with reference to the captive audience: there’s not much competition, and if you remember what happens when demand is high and supply is low, well, that’s what you see.

In the San Francisco Airport I wanted a bagel with a schmear, and it was around five bucks. Here I had a chicken salad sandwich, and had to part with $12, not including tax. Now I have to admit the sandwich was good (photo below), but really—twelve bucks?  Do airport food places make a deal with the airport to charge astronomical prices, or do they kick back a lot of their profit to the place?

Well, if you Google “why is airport food so expensive?”, you get a ton of answers. This site gives six, and I was partly right:

  1. Airport rent and regulations, which include extra fees besides rent.
  2. COMMISSIONS TO THE AIRPORT. These can be as high as 10%
  3. Delivery fees of foodstuffs to airports are higher than delivery to normal outlets. For example, delivery people have to go through security
  4. Limited storage space, so you have to rent more space.
  5. Delivery people have to pass extra background checks.
  6. Airports are out of the way and that makes it harder to retain employees, ergo they have to pay them more.

Their solution is twofold. First, avoid beverages in airports, which have an even higher profit margin. But the best solution is to bring in your own food (but not drinks, which aren’t allowed to go through TSA!). That was not an option for me.

But the chicken sandwich was good, and on my Southwest flight I got a free can of cranberry juice (actually, a mixture of cranberry, apple, and grape juice, with the first ingredient being water and the second HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. The damn can had two ounces (ca. 60 grams) of sugar in it!)



29 thoughts on “The sterile and expensive Denver International Airport

  1. Hate to tell you this, but $12 for a sandwich is about average in San Francisco now. Eating out is just a memory for me now.

    1. Seriously? That might be more than in Lunnon… (London to yokels like I am once again).
      But a coffee & a very nice bun sets me back about £6 in Norwich…

      Not flown for over a decade due to guilt over my carbon footprint…

    2. That’s too bad. Had a bunch of great meals in Frisco a couple weeks ago. Yes, prices are up: they are up everywhere. But then, who eats out as much as BC? (Before Covid) And we now tip 20%. Roam burgers on Fillmore wasn’t bad. The sushi and noodles around Japantown weren’t too much more. I do worry about the margins/borders of what is a possible eat-out price with different folks. Heck, a totally filling beef, mashed potatoes w/gravy, veg (corn and/or peas, none of that furrin stuff like brocklee), a roll, and milk was only 60 cents back in South Dakota when George McGovern was running for Senate. What does it all mean? Mr. Natural would say, “Don’t mean ****.”

  2. But the best solution is to bring in your own food (but not drinks, which aren’t allowed to go through TSA!)

    I agree with the first half. There are several workarounds for the second. You can bring as many 3-ounce bottles as you want (theoretically, enough to fill a quart bag, but realistically, people have gotten more tolerant). Not only do I bring flavor syrups (Mio, etc) and flavor powders, I also bring single-serve bottles of my favorite adult beverages – and they’re refillable, they don’t have to be sealed. I can then re-hydrate my beverages at any local water fountain. Be creative!

    Just be careful with the single serve bottles in the aircraft itself. Drinking your own adult beverages on airplanes is illegal in many jurisdictions.

  3. Airports have a dystopian feel—at least to me. I try to use the smaller ones whenever possible, Detroit and Harrisburg instead of Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia International. The smaller ones are far more human but they, too, have a downside; flying into and out of the smaller airports can be super expensive.

    You can get a nice chicken salad sandwich at Denver International, I’m told. 🙂

      1. We love the Denver Airport, FWIW. Not the prices at the hotel connected since once we were stranded and didn’t want to pay $350 before taxes. Sorry, but expecting airports in this century to have any “soul” seems unhinged sentimentalism to me.

  4. Prices of everything are shooting up in the UK due to energy costs, all the way from farm to plate. Grains, fuel to harvest, fascist dictators… 😩

    1. If only they’d put right off Colfax! Right? Take the A train, relax, read a book. It is faster to get to Denver from DEN than it is to get into San Francisco from SFO, and about 50 times cheaper.

  5. I had a similar experience at the airport in Copenhagen—after marching through endless corridors I arrived at my gate and realized there was nothing to eat there or
    nearby. After a while I found a few vending machines, but no proper eateries, and had to make do with a breakfast of Snickers bars and so on. I wish they’d told passengers about the food desert beforehand! I’m guessing I flew out of a new terminal, since the rest of the airport was normal—lots of eateries and shops before security, a duty free shopping mall afterward, etc.

  6. I’ve flown in/out of DIA more than any other airport, by far (I’m originally from Colorado). As a reporter I covered the opening of the airport in 1995.

    Honestly, having flown in/out of many other American and foreign airports, I’ve long felt that DIA is one of the most efficient, easy to navigate and use airports I’ve used, especially after having to literally run across O’Hare and Charlotte to catch tight connecting flights.

    It doesn’t strike me as any more sterile than any other airport. The food? Well, airport food is incredibly expensive and usually not very good. I’m fortunate in being able to bring food from home, usually.

    Anyway, I’m a homer, I admit. But I really like DIA!

    1. DIA is our “home” airport and has a major design flaw. The trains go from the main terminal to Concourses A, B and C, but you can only walk to Concourse A. When the trains have mechanical problems, there is no option to walk to B and C. Nightmare.

      1. That is a fair critique, though I’ve never experienced the trains having mechanical problems. Incidentally, on the rare occasions when I’m flying out of Concourse A, I actually like to walk over the pedestrian bridge.

  7. In earlier years, I always enjoyed a sandwich and wine or beer at 35,000 feet looking out the window with the drone of jet engines. I understand that flights are no longer relaxing enough to enjoy such a simple pleasure. Wife is taking daughter and grand daughters to nyc mid december by amtrak. Carrying on an insulated bag of deli sandwiches from our favorite local purveyor. Trip is from 6am to 2pm. Perfect for noonish lunch north of washington dc with drinks from the snack car. Reminds me of when we traveled by car in the 50’s and my mother would make sandwiches and wrap them in wax paper for consumption at wayside picnic tables. Stopping at a restaurant was way too expensive. Also had the ubiquitous paper sack of apples.

  8. … I swear that I’ve never seen a more sterile airport in my life. There are long, soul-less corridors of gates …

    The last couple times I flew out of the Denver airport I was returning from visiting a client in the federal supermax prison, ADX Florence. I reckon I was too inured to sterility and soullessness to notice. 🙂

  9. Years ago I got peeved at the small square footage a diner was allocated at whatever airport concourse eatery one reposed. I contemplated how proud some industrial engineer/efficiency expert must be of himself imposing that on me. But then remembered that he got his marching orders from some corporate bean counter.

    I was impressed by Finnair service and the Helsinki airport. My first exposure to pickled herring was delightful.

  10. Doesn’t Denver International have a New Belgium restaurant? It’s a brewery and I don’t know about their food but their beers are very good. I once had a layover at Denver International and wanted to visit them but had to run to catch my connection.

    1. If it does, it was established in recent years. I used to go to or through Denver a lot, but it has been a long time and I would have found a New Belgium restaurant as one of my favorite beers is New Belgium Voodoo Ranger imperial IPA. My recollection is that each concourse has a central hub with places to eat and shop and then long stretches of gates going each way with smaller hubs of concessions. I seem to recall some upper level areas with restaurants/bars. Can’t say I find any airport all that nice a place to be, although Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth is not horrible.

  11. At Portland International Airport (PDX), almost all of the restaurants are outposts of local establishments, and by rule they are not allowed to charge any more than they do at their off-airport locations.

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