DENVER — For the seventh year in a row, Denver International Airport was on track to break its record for its highest passenger traffic ever. And then, the pandemic hit.
"When the pandemic started, we just really didn't know what the year was going to bring," DEN spokesperson Emily Williams said.
The year would end up bringing about half of 2019's passenger traffic through the airport's doors — nearly 34 million people.
"Obviously, things in 2020 didn't look the way that we had anticipated," Williams said.
But despite the pandemic, the airport still remains one of the busiest in the country — and the world.
In 2019, the airport ranked the fifth-busiest in the U.S. Once numbers are finalized, Williams said, it'll likely rank two spots higher in 2020, right behind Atlanta and Dallas.
Globally, it usually ranks in the top 20, but early numbers show it was in the top 10 last year.
"I'd say that Denver International Airport is actually recovering faster than most of our airports," Williams said.
The airport's central location makes it really attractive to airlines for connecting flights. Also, Colorado offers the perfect pandemic escape: the outdoors.
"[The outdoors] felt safer in 2020, and I think we'll continue to feel safer in 2021," Williams said.
Fliers like Austin Graham, who flew from Orlando to Denver Tuesday afternoon, agree.
"I'm going to go hiking with my friends. Skiing. I've never been ... and so I think that's a big reason why people are coming here and not necessarily going to places where, you know, you're going to see huge crowds of people," he said.
March is already shaping up to be busier than January and February.
"We really want people to know that we're ready when they're ready. There are a lot of people that aren't comfortable traveling right now, and that is completely OK. But for people who feel comfortable or have to travel, we've done as much as we can to make the airport safe," Williams said.
The airport's 26th year in operation may not break records, but the numbers are already showing a rebound is at hand.