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DIA makes changes to limit crowds, increase social distancing on trains amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted at 4:25 PM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 08:10:31-05

DENVER -- In a world where social distancing has become the norm amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Denver7 Investigates found it’s not always being practiced in one of Denver International Airport’s tightest spaces.

Dozens of recent videos and photos taken by DIA travelers show passengers on airport trains just inches apart and nowhere near the six-foot requirement for physical distancing.

“There was not a lot of social distancing happening on the train,” traveler Andree Miller said.

“It was pretty packed,” said Mat Evans, another traveler.

Once passengers got off the train at baggage claim and made their way up the escalator, a traveler in one video is heard saying, “I don’t understand why they think that’s OK.”

Travelers have mixed reactions to DIA’s packed trains

Passenger Deron McIntire said it seems the airport is ignoring COVID-19 safety precautions.

“That was probably the worst it’s been for social distancing,” he said.

Others called it a part of traveling.

“If I’m putting myself in the position of traveling, I need to not expect to be able to maintain 6 feet from someone,” Miller said.

Airport executive vows changes to limit crowds, increase social distancing

Chris McLaughlin is DIA’s chief operating officer said the airport takes this very seriously.

“We know that the trains are a point of concern,” he said. “We certainly have seen the pictures.”

McLaughlin said the airport recently moved employees who ride the train to an off-site parking lot so they can take a bus directly out to the concourses.

DIA has also increased capacity and frequency of the trains and is encouraging passengers to walk to their gates from the pedestrian bridge to Concourse A whenever possible.

“It keeps you socially distant and off the train system altogether,” McLaughlin said.

The airport is not limiting capacity on trains, McLaughlin said, to avoid creating issues in other areas of the airport.

He said if the airport stops people from getting on the train, it would back up the crowds to security, and if they stop people from going through security, the bottleneck happens at ticketing.

“The best way for us to keep people safely flowing through this airport is to keep that river flowing,” McLaughlin said.

He also said the longest anyone can be on a single train is five minutes, 56 seconds.

“So that’s well below the CDC guidelines that are out there in terms of prolonged exposure,” McLaughlin said.

Out of state traveler provides a different perspective

Michael Cullen flew to Denver from Jacksonville, Florida. His wife is immunocompromised and said they can’t take any chances.

“The train was a little bit together, but nothing compared to Florida,” Cullen said. “Being from Florida, we don’t have to have masks on when we’re inside a restaurant, for example, or bars, so we don’t do that.”

Airport encourages passengers to use its new app

As the busy holiday travel season approaches, DIA is also encouraging travelers to download and use its new free phone app.

It’s called Verifly and allows passengers to pre-book a dedicated TSA line and a limited-capacity train up to two weeks in advance.

“It’s not a dedicated train, it is a dedicated car on the train,” McLaughlin said. “(The app) gives you the guarantee of social distance through our network.”

Once a traveler downloads the app to their phone and books a reservation time, they will have to fill out a COVID-19 health assessment 24 hours before their flight. Then, on the day of their travel, passengers go to the Verifly lane at the south security screening checkpoint.

“It really is the best of both worlds for the customers that need the extra confidence and social distance,” McLaughlin said.

The airport’s peak travel times are 8:50 a.m., 10:20 a.m. and 1 p.m., so those are good times for passengers to avoid if they are looking for more social distance on the trains.