American Makes a Move to Grow Dallas/Ft Worth, But Bigger Decisions Need to Be Made

Everyone wants an Atlanta. Delta has built Atlanta into an incredible hub, a machine that pushes through an enormous number of passengers to feed the airline’s global network. Both United and American would love to have an Atlanta of their own, and for American, the best option is at Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW). An announcement last week marks the beginning of American making its move with a net acquisition of 13 more gates and a planned increase in flights of more than 10 percent. But if American is going to really want to turn DFW into Atlanta, there are some big decisions that need to be made.

Let’s dig into DFW a little bit more with this awful artwork.

No matter what you think about Texas, we can all agree that they tend to think big there. It may have seemed crazy when they plopped down an airport on some prairie way back in the day, but DFW is now one of the few airports in a big city with plenty of room to grow. The original terminal plan was for, I believe, 370 semi-circular terminals straddling either side of the central roadway holding 400 trillion passengers, or something like that. But when it was first built, there were just four.

The original Terminal 2E (now Terminal A) was presumably named with the expectation that there would be another couple horseshoes to the north, but those have yet to come to fruition. Today, it’s a newly-renovated building that’s entirely occupied by American’s mainline operation.

Terminal 3E (now Terminal C), just south of A, is also used exclusively by American. But Terminal C hasn’t been renovated and you could be mistaken for thinking you had gone back to the 1980s the second you step inside. Its future remains up in the air, though a plan should emerge by the end of the summer.

Terminal 4E (now Terminal E) is better known as the one terminal American didn’t use. In fact, it was the home of Delta’s now-defunct DFW hub. Delta was bursting at the seams to the point where in the 1980s, the airport opened that little satellite building to hold more flights. Now E is home to pretty much everything that’s not American and not international (Update: American Eagle is using E35-38 now, go figure)… but the satellite has remained empty since renovations were finished on the main terminal.

Terminal 2W (now Terminal B) was the one building on the west side when the airport opened. It’s now solely filled with American Eagle airplanes. American started running out of room, so it added on that weird growth-like stinger concourse on the northwest side to take advantage of empty real estate. B has 3 gates in the southeast corner that are connected right into the customs facility in Terminal D, so American Eagle flights from close international destinations don’t have to park with the big boys. But the place is running out of room again.

Terminal D (would have been Terminal 3W if it had been open before the naming convention changed) is only a little over a decade old, and it’s the airport’s increasingly-busy international terminal.

Overall, DFW has 165 gates and until now, American has controlled about 122 of them. Despite all these gates, American is hungry for more. The airline is planning on growing from around 800 peak daily flights today to around 900 peak daily flights next summer. It’s also going to gain a net 13 new gates. Here’s what’s happening.

What’s Changing
American has decided that flying on 50-seaters isn’t miserable enough. So the airline is going to pull some of those away from Terminal B and put them in the now-abandoned Terminal E satellite. The gates there will be reconfigured for regional jets, so the number will increase from 9 today to 15. But it’ll be used by those Embraer 140s and 145s you love to hate. If you happen to be starting or ending in Dallas, that’s not bad. But if you’re connecting, especially between E and B, get ready for a hike.

With those airplanes moving out of Terminal B, American has a little room to play. It’s currently looking at extending the sterile corridor which connects the 3 gates in Terminal B to customs to a handful more. Those gates would be reconfigured (and 2 would be lost) to allow mainline airplanes to start using B for near-international and domestic flights.

This gives American control of 135 gates at DFW, but it’s going to eventually need more. And it has to start making a decision on how it wants to make that happen.

What Needs to Change
American has a few issues at DFW, and the first of which is what to do about Terminal C. It’s pretty awful, and American knows it. It pushed off the renovation back when money troubles arose, but it can’t keep doing that forever. The airline could pour a bunch of money into the building and make it passable, or it could just put some lipstick on it to keep it running until it can build a new facility. I expect we’ll know more about the plans for C by the end of the summer. Decisions needs to be made. But a renovation wouldn’t get American much more in the way of gates anyway.

There have been grand plans in the past to create mega-terminals, but the easiest and most obvious solution would be to build Terminal F. Fans of symmetry would rejoice at finally having three terminals on each side of the highway with F on the west side just south of D. The footprint is, as you can see in that photo above, there for the taking. Taxiways were all designed knowing that something would be plopped right in there one day. That’s not to say that it will be cheap to build, but it should be a whole lot cheaper than some of the crazy things more constrained airports have had to do.

If American really wants to grow, then the right thing to do is to pony up the money and build F. Presumably it could be built in a way that would net more gates than what C has today. Then C can be shuttered, knocked down, and eventually rebuilt to add a ton more gates to the airport’s overall footprint. We won’t see that happen for a long time, but it’s the kind of long-term planning that airports should be doing if American is serious about turning DFW into its own Atlanta.

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smkarizona
Member
smkarizona

They also need to work with the airport to quickly respond to issues. The Skylink train went down on Sunday and walking was the only option within security (although the announcement mentioned that you could go to the curb and take the external shuttle, I don’t know why you would choose to play TSA roulette again). No quick action to get carts out and help folks make connections, and at least one people mover was down as well. As a matter of fact, there was a cluster of carts sitting between terminal A & C with employees lounging and heckling… Read more »

Joey Jaidee
Guest
Joey Jaidee

Employees heckling passengers?? Really?? Do tell.

Paul Ferdinand
Member

Yikes! I remember when the “not so Grand Hyatt” was Grand. Could someone please bring over my walker?

Kilroy
Guest

I used to live in Dallas and fly out of DFW on a weekly basis. DFW is absolutely GREAT if you are arriving or departing from there and can get a cab/Uber/friend to drop you off or pick you up at the curb, as it was built in an era before airport security was a big deal, and built so as to minimize the distance from curb to check-in to gate (even these days, you can go from curb to security to gate in under 100 steps). If your trip originates in DFW and your return flight arrives at the… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member

It was a given that American would try to gain as many additional gates as it can; building their hubs by adding spokes is where American and United are both currently focused. The satellite gates on E have not been used and AA could certainly put them to use but the plan is not ideal for several reasons….1. the enormous size of DFW means that some connecting passengers will be making very long walks and train rides to connect to everything. The fact that AA is going to put its smallest RJs out there confirms the poor location of the… Read more »

Bill from DC
Guest

How do you travel between terminals? Are they all separate like LAX or JFK or can you walk between adjacent terminals (like A and B)? What about non-adjacent terminals like A and C or A and a potential F? I seem to remember a trAAin solely because of the AA crammed into the word, what does that do?

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

The major difference between DFW and every other major connecting hub is that gates are on only one side of the concourse or terminal in DFW and two in every other hub. Basic geometry shows that you have to cover a larger amount of distance to get between two pieces on the five semi-circular shaped terminals than you would in terminals/concourses that have gates on both sides of the terminals/concourses. Given that there are two train stops in each terminal, there is also a very high likelihood that you will have to walk a significant distance to/from the train stop,… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

The max walking distance from gate to skytrain is less than max distance pax has to walk from gate to train at ATL.

Bgriff
Member

To be clear, to add to the other comments, the current SkyLink train is all within security, so it’s arguably not that much different from connecting in Atlanta, other than that the time you spend on the train is longer because it has much greater distance to cover. But, it also has the downside that if you are a DFW local and want to park at the terminal while flying AA domestically, there’s a good chance you will arrive back at a different terminal and will no longer be at the terminal where your car is parked. If you have… Read more »

MeanMeosh
Guest

They put the trAAin out of its misery back in 2005 when the SkyLink was built. I think the max transit time using the SkyLink is in the 10-12 minute range. Add about 10 minutes for walking if you’re in the Satellite E gates. It’s a far cry from the bad old days when the choice was either walking or using the inter-terminal buses and re-clearing security.

JB
Member
JB

They need some sweet cowboy music on the train like they have at Denver. I love that little guitar riff!

Kilroy
Guest
Kilroy

Personally, I’m quite fond of the music and funky light show at the underground walkway in DTW (Detroit). I don’t use drugs, but I can imagine that going through that area while tripping on something would be quite the experience.

Andy
Member
Andy

The underground light show at UA’s terminal at ORD is really cool, but the music is just Rhapsody in Blue :(

cbw
Guest
cbw

You can walk between all terminals except E and can take the train to all terminals. The train runs in both directions, making inter-terminal transit very quick. It is also already set up for a potential terminal F to be built around it.

UnclePinkeye
Guest
UnclePinkeye

Will American looking to strengthen its fortress hub at DFW, allow Southwest to make the argument that they will need more gates at Love-Field to compete?

broadcreek48
Member
broadcreek48

BS: Thanks to your descriptive analysis, we get the picture. On my flights through DFW, it’s always been packed but usually efficient. Terminal D is a great place to return from international destinations; customs is smooth and sensible. The Grand Hyatt is convenient for meeting and dining options. CJT

Gary
Member
Gary

We are regular international flyers from El Paso through DFW. We have learned to plan carefully regarding DFW and making connections. Outbound we always allow at least three hours for the connection…and usually have more time, but we are Admiral Club members so that softens the wait time somewhat. But, it is the return that requires careful planning, so we no longer fly into DFW from Paris or London and then try to make a same day connection. After a couple of very frustrating and painful experiences several years ago, we now arrive at DFW and then simply stay overnight… Read more »

Benjamin
Guest
Benjamin

Airports are built for two reasons: Air travel; and to give people something to hate. DFW might be an imperfect behemoth, but unlike many others, it was built with an eye on the future, and to intelligently manage multitudes of flights and passengers. Savvy travelers understand an airport is not a bus stop or a subway station and will take five minutes to research it online or download the quite good DFW app. There are really only two good things about Dallas: leaving; and DFW. Yes, American is crowded at DFW and needs to figure out what to do next.… Read more »

Elcam84
Guest

For those of us familiar with dfw unlike the writer of the article… For fliers terminal C is the main terminal. It had the best arrangement of spots for food and is the most convenient for flights as most of your flights will be there. Unfortunately terminal C is being renovated and has already lost some of the food stops like Wendy’s etc. They are putting in more sit down restaraunts like the pappadough chain as well as around 4 dunking doughnuts. (More D&D than in the rest of dfw) Making it harder for those at the airport there to… Read more »

brent young
Guest
brent young

Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport is The Worlds Buisiest Airport for 22 Years Straight, for Good Reason, it is like three d/fw Airports in One ; Sirriously!!! Drive Your Car outside “The Airport”, and you Will see 3 d/fw Airports ; landings and take~offs ; “streams” of planes,…it is like compareing a BMW too a 80’s Chevy ;.Delta is Class!!! ; on a simple note, compare Deltas Comercials ; CLASS! ; it is like compareing New York too, well Garland, WELL i Love Dallas, lived 28 years their ; but, like Atlantas Cobb Pkwy ; operating with a 1970’s Design(2… Read more »

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

I didn’t know the Atlanta airport had a blog-commenting bot.

kishoreajoshi
Guest
kishoreajoshi

one would expect bots to have (at least) middle-school-level spelling and grammar…

MeanMeosh
Guest

“But if you’re connecting, especially between E and B, get ready for a hike.”

That’s not entirely accurate anymore. With the SkyLink, I think it’s about 10 minutes max to ride between the two. It IS somewhat of a hike if you have to go from the Satellite E gates over to B, but you’re still only talking 20 minutes or so. No worse really than having to get to the T gates at ATL.

Mark
Guest

AA won’t build terminal F. They will foot the bill and ultimately will be paying for OA to receive more gates in the end.

southbay flier
Guest

One of ATL’s biggest draws is the linear terminals. It makes getting from T to F a breeze and it’s more efficient with gates on both sides of the concourse. DFW can’t have that and the result is some really long hikes from terminal to terminal. That’s why DEN and DTW both copied ATL’s design of parallel linear concourses.

Besides, can anyone have another Atlanta? It’s location works great for both North/South and East/West connections. DFW can’t be used as a stopping point between the heavily populated Northeast and Florida like ATL.

Jack R
Guest

I have avoided DFW as a connection city since the late 1990’s. Until a totally new, user friendly terminal is built that combines all of AA’s flights & gates, I will continue to avoid it. Since no plans are in place I assume I’ll never be back. It’s horrible for connections, straining Customer Service, baggage transfers & efficiency.

ChuckMO
Guest
ChuckMO

I’ve never been through DFW. The layout overwhelms me and I know about the train and all that rot but I went through IAH twice and those spread out terminals were enough for me. I purposely avoid those two airports and willingly pay more.

A
Guest
A

DFW is an airport that was built with the car in mind. For starters they have a highway running right through the property, but also a very short vehicle to gate walk. Not as bad as MCI but squint your eyes and you can see similarities. The only reason the airport works as a hub is that there is ample real estate to build out massive linear terminals and its a mega city with tons of O/D traffic. Drop either of those and it wouldn’t be a hub. Like it or not the ATL concourse layout has become the gold… Read more »

oldiesfan6479
Guest
oldiesfan6479

Bury the Bob Crandall Toll Road? Shirley you jest!

JM
Guest
JM

He is serious… and don’t call him Shirley.

John Ham
Guest

Any word on how well Spirit is doing at DFW? Growing, declining, or even?

Seanny
Member
Seanny

Oy, transiting from Terminal B to Terminal E is rough. I’ve had to do it a couple of times connecting to/from AA to Alaska.

Eric in ICT
Guest

Great assessment of DFW. I had not flown through there in a decade or more but will make 3 trips in first half of this year (with help from Cranky Concierge on one of those runs!). Of course DFW welcomed me back by making me sprint and change terminals the first time due to a delayed flight and an already tight connection. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks Terminal C is a crowded relic and that the logical (and symmetrical) thing to do would be to add a Terminal F on the West Side.

Fnu muhibullah
Guest
Fnu muhibullah

I drive taxi DFW associates have no respect for taxi driver at all even the manager is rude the night dispatcher always tries to intimidate drivers by yelling at them if they have to ask question. Couple days ago the same night dispatcher lady called me lier more then five time when I told her I was told to move to other terminal.

Wes
Guest
Wes

Sure, time forgot Terminal C, but it’s got something that more than makes up for it: The DFW Employee Store! Tons of cool airline swag, including a bunch for now-defunct airlines. We scored a set of decommissioned AA first class espresso plates, cups, and spoons with the old AA logo on it for dirt cheap. Open to the public, they just won’t sell anything which could be used to impersonate airline staff to us regular joes. Everything else is fair game. Located at the far end by C2. Definitely a cool place to kill some time.

Anthony
Guest

What could United do to have its own Atlanta? DEN seems to be a good domestic hub, and O’Hare is getting a lot of updates in the next few years. One problem with both though is the amount they are affected by weather.

Tony
Guest

What could United do to replicate Delta’s hub at Atlanta? DEN seems to be one of the hubs with the most potential. Perhaps it could be beefed up more – especially domestically?

Xnuiem
Member
Xnuiem

It has to be IAH. Fighting WN down south at HOU, but United has no other position nearly as strong as IAH.

Suzie Alcatrez
Guest
Suzie Alcatrez

DEN is too high for international flights.

Bill from DC
Guest
Bill from DC

Huh?

Jason
Guest
Jason

I have to say I’m quite surprised at all the negative comments. DFW is one of my most frequent connecting airports, and I like it. Granted I would never recommend <90min domestic connection, but I wouldn’t in ATL either. Going from one end of T to one end of C by train plus a hamburger took almost 90min on a non-holiday Friday night. I couldn’t believe it. ATL’s gate seating is also way too small, but that is a problem at most US airports. The DFW terminals have two Skylink stations each with two entrances/exits, so it’s rare I walk… Read more »

Tim
Guest

As someone who has flown a lot between DFW and ATL as O&D and connected at both as well, I think people are being a bit dramatic about the difference in connecting at DFW vs ATL. It might take a couple more minutes to get from terminal to terminal but nothing significant at all, and DFW is a much more pleasant environment for waiting for a connection, as it isn’t as crowded, either at the gate or between gates. That said, an A to satellite E connection is pushing the boundaries of reasonableness a bit, although still not sure that… Read more »

Kilroy
Guest
Kilroy

Definitely agree about O&D at DFW if you are getting a ride to/from the curb. DFW is by far the best medium or large airport I’ve ever experienced in terms of being able to get from the curb to the gate quickly, and is even faster than many small airports only served by RJs. It’s also nice having the option of multiple security checkpoints that are reasonably close together. If the security checkpoint closest to your gate is pretty backed up, walk 3 minutes and try another one. In terms of “wheels on the runway” to curb time for mid-sized… Read more »

DenMark
Guest
DenMark

LGA can be crazy fast… it may be a bit of a dump, but it is compact.

cblock2
Member
cblock2

Yeah, but then the ridiculous (at peak times) cab queue and very limited (and slow) public transport options render the plane-to-curb advantage meaningless.

MC
Member
MC

It looks like something is being built where terminal F would be and it looks like the other terminals….the construction gets bigger every time I go by it….is DFW building it on its own? To attract more airline service? There are always 140/145’s at the international terminal 3-5 at a time especially when the international carriers are in….American taking over Gilligan’s Island will give more gates but its a long haul to the main terminal….connecting wont be easy if you come into Terminal A and have to leave out of the new gates….it seems like both moving side walks are… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

From the pageview counts, looks like CF picked a topic a lot of people want to talk and read about! This should be one of the most popular recent topics on CF.

Eric A.
Member
Eric A.

Hey now…I love C from a nostalgic point of view. But alas, it dosent have that Mall with Planes allure so she’s doomed. All these proposals are fine and good but simply kick the can out another decade. If AA wAAnts AA functional cAAsh cow they are going to have to abandon the hoop earring model and pull off a MCI. A central terminal on the north or south side of the complex with a Texas sized parking structure and trains running where the current access road sits. Since parking in the semi-circle would no longer necessary, they can be… Read more »

Captoza
Guest

They could square up all the terminals vs being semi circle. Although some gates would be lost in the process. This would connect all the terminals too. Although, It would be a long walk too just like closed D is STL. Just a thought

daygs
Member

On the 3rd floor (I think) of AA HDQ1 there is a handsome rendering of the re-imaged, never built DFW operation – 1 long terminal I believe. That picture has been there since the Crandall days and it’s still very interesting to study.