Ready for takeoff: A look at air travel today with Phil Washington

February 1, 2023

Ready for takeoff: A look at air travel today with Phil Washington

Phil Washington

CEO of Denver International Airport

Catch the Walker Webcast with Phil Washington, CEO of the third busiest airport in the world by area.

Airports are some of the largest, most highly regulated forms of commercial real estate, which makes managing them incredibly difficult. I had the pleasure of speaking with Phil Washington, the CEO of the Denver International Airport, about the state of Colorado's largest economic engine. The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from the logistics of removing snow from Rocky Mountain runways to how TSA Precheck and Clear are shaping the future of airport security.

The Denver difference

In addition to being the third busiest airport in the world by passenger volume, DEN is also one of the largest airports in the world by area. With an airfield larger than the borough of Manhattan, DEN has plenty of room to grow, unlike other major international airports. Currently, airport officials are weighing the possibility of adding an additional runway, which is a luxury that other large airports, like JFK, LaGuardia, and LAX, just don’t have.

Future plans: Where will DEN go next?

As a hub for three major airlines (United, Frontier, Southwest), DEN is looking to grow its number of domestic and international routes, with a sharp focus on international travel. DEN’s current focus on cementing itself as an international travel hub relies on adding service to existing destinations, such as Europe, as well as establishing and re-establishing routes to Asia and Africa.

The airport is doing so by introducing nonstop flights to Tokyo through United, as well as focusing efforts on establishing nonstop service to Africa. Airport officials see great potential for DEN to become a key connecting hub for both domestic and international travelers as it begins to service these continents.

TSA PreCheck and Clear: Changing the travel landscape

Although the pandemic had devastating effects on the travel industry, it didn’t have a similar effect on the number of TSA Precheck enrollees. Currently, there are around 27.4 million people enrolled in the PreCheck program, compared to just 18.9 million in 2019. Clear has also seen a recent surge in enrollments, with roughly 12 million members today.

While many airports have struggled with line placement for these security programs, Phil still believes they are well worth the money; he’s a member of both himself. He also mentioned that DEN is working to mitigate a common issue that many Clear/PreCheck members face - having to search for their line.

Much like many other airports, DEN previously funneled all PreCheck/Clear members to a line at the north end of the airport, forcing passengers to walk long distances. A plan is in the works now to add additional lines at the south end of the airport.

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