Is [KDEN] really that bad?


Lifetime Elite
I have driven to Denver (ugh, long distance from here) but have never flown there. I have heard lots of bad things about rough, cross-wind landings, pilots who flare too early or too late.. etc..

A week from today, I am leaving via Frontier, from SDF-DEN. Is it really that bad of an experience to fly through there? I've flown to PHX, ATL, LAX, SEA, etc, and i've had my fair share of rough air, but some people I know even avoid DEN because of the stories. I'll post more info on the actual flight once the forecast is relevant (obviously, forecast for a flight 1 week from now will be inaccurate).


Lifetime Elite
It has that reputation from the former Stapleton site that was decommissioned in 1995. The new Denver International has many different runway configurations so pilots no longer have to make crosswind landings as they did at Stapleton. Denver is located on the lee or downwind side of the Rocky mountain front range which presents some problems mainly during winter when the jet stream and mid level winds are stronger than in summer. Generally speaking when strong winds occur perpendicular to mountain ranges it can create what are called mountain waves which result in turbulence. Not a problem at 37K feet usually but is felt from about 25K on down. If you look at the pilot reports link you will see a cluster of reports in central Colorado for two reasons. The first one I described the second one is because DEN is a very busy hub and there are many aircraft coming and going. A good tool to use is the 500mb forecast model. It shows how strong the winds will be at 18K and goes out 84 hrs. (I just looked at the 500mb for Monday morning and it shows a ridge of high pressure centered over the Southwest which is the cause of this drought by the way. That means it should be smooth as glass over Colorado.)
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Lifetime Elite
I have heard that even on clear days, descent into DEN is rough. Not much I can do about it I guess, i'll just pop a Tylenol PM before the flight... although SDF-DEN isn't a long flight so i'm probably fretting about it more than I should. Thanks for the reply!


Staff member
I flew into DEN during a severe turbulence advisory, wasn't that bad. Though I suspect it can be on occasion.


Super Lifetime Elite
Last time I went in there it was pretty darn nice actually. I was expecting to have the plane pitching and yawing, but it turned out no different than any other approach. This was in the fall last year. Depends on the day just like anywhere else!


Lifetime Elite
DEN is a terrible airport for a number of reasons: poorly designed, too far from town to actually be called "Denver", 1 gas station within miles for all rental cars, a consolidated terminal and security for ALL terminals, silly train, run down already even though it's new, odd blue horse with red glowing eyes (look for it as you drive up to or away from it)..but weather is only a little worse than elsewhere. Colorado Springs his more hairy. In summer the weather can get unstable around there. In winter too! But it is not that bad for flying itself, although I have had more than a few weather delays and diversions out of DEN then elsewhere that kept me on the ground longer.


Lifetime Forecaster
80% I fly into DEN it is a bumpy. I try to avoid DEN as much as possible. United has a hub in DEN, and when I fly United I tend to fly thru Chichago (ORD) instead. Especially when are coming from the Westcoast (LAX, PHX, LAS or SFO) it can be bumpy on the Powder7 arrival descending over the Rockies based on my personal experience. Last trip was on Triple 7 going into DEN from LAX, got bounced pretty good in the Heavy bird...Air flow past mountains the same way water washes over rocks..Gets rough. But I have flown into DEN during snow and icing and it be completely smooth.


Lifetime Elite
OK, I live in the Denver area and so have cause to go in and out of the Distantly Ironic Airport a fair bit. There's no question that you can get bounced around a bit around here. If you dislike the bumps, there are some hints to help.
1) in late spring, summer, and early fall fly really early--in or out before noon and ideally before 9 am (sunrise is the best--this is generally true of most of the mountain west). Unlike areas farther east, convection and thunderstorms are nearly entirely afternoon and early evening and are driven by sunlight on the varied topography and not fronts moving across the area. The morning air is often smooth as can be. Nearly as good are the latest flights at night, just not so scenic. If you are flying north or south along the Rockies in summer, I wish you well if you fly in the afternoon--those can be really unpleasant flights.
2) know the bumps--it is a huge help in feeling like you know what to suffer through. in winter, late fall and early spring the bad adventures are mainly from the interaction of the upper level winds with the Rockies. Rather ironically, this can be at the worst before or after a snowstorm, while during the snowstorm things aren't so bad in the air. If you see the jet stream near Denver, or you see the mountain wave clouds overhead, expect a rocky ride. The good news is that often the worst is in the transition from the air in the lee of the mountains to air above (one flight some kids in the back were howling like on a roller coaster for the few minutes the plane was in a wave and going up and down). If you listen to air traffic control on United, you'll often get a heads up a few minutes before the adventure begins. The nice thing in the end is that with all the runways at DIA, you are unlikely to be encountering a serious crosswind.