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.
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.