The Denver International airport marched boldly into the future with a computerized baggage handling system that immediately became famous for its ability to mangle or misplace a good portion of everything that wandered into its path. Now people are fully back in charge. The miles of tracks were supposed to make the baggage’s movement simple at Denver’s airport but they never did. As Veronica Stevenson said, a lead baggage handler for United Airlines and president of the union local that represents United’s 1300 handlers in Denver, “Sometimes you need real people.” Back then the mainframe doing it all from a command central was high-tech beyond the timeline. Today, as the engineers say “it’s like a cold-war-era relic. Denver’s plan was to have the distance from a centralized baggage check-in to the farthest gate about a mile.
Travelers who arrived for check-in or stepped off a plane would have their bags whisked across the airport with low risk of being lost or stolen. The result was fewer flight delays, less waiting at luggage carousels and big savings in airline labor costs. Raymond Neidl, an airline-aerospace analyst with Calyon Securities in New York, said “They were so proud of it.” But then the price grew larger along with system glitches and construction cost went at about 1 million a day for months in 1994. The busiest airline had been stripped down to a simple version since the opening in 1995.
Automation never worked for incoming flights, whose baggage has been moved by handlers from the beginning. Industries analysis say recapturing and maintaining the good will of the workers will be crucial to the airlines ultimate recovery. In any event, managers at the airport say the failure of big-thought baggage transit does have a plus: lots of room. Denver has 33 baggage scanners the size of minivans that screen every piece of luggage, as required by federal security regulation. They never envisioned something like this catastrophe happening and never even prepared for this disaster and failed project.