Dallas/Fort Worth Sets Plans to Accommodate American’s Growth

DFW - Dallas/Ft Worth

When Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) opened nearly 50 years ago, it was built with massive growth in mind. Even the original terminal-numbering of 2W (now B), 2E (now A), 3E (now C), and 4E (now E) was done with the idea that 4 more terminals could join the ranks, if not more. Over the years, most of that has failed to come to fruition. Now, we have a new plan, and it is certainly one that’s scaled down from those grandiose original dreams. Ultimately, this comes down to how DFW can get American more gates at the least cost possible.

In 2005, the international-focused Terminal D (what would have been 3W in the old naming-system) opened, and so did the Skylink train. The train was built with a loop over a parking lot that would eventually become a future Terminal F, but no other terminal has yet been built. Why? There have been plans over the years, but the funding was never there.

Ultimately, there just hasn’t been an immediate need. This may come as a surprise, but DFW has fewer departures today than it did 20 years ago.

Monthly DFW Departures

T-100 Data via Cirium

How is that possible? Well, remember that Delta had a sizable hub at the airport in Terminal E until early 2005 when it dismantled it. That loss of capacity is something that has never been recovered, though in 2019 it got close.

For the 15 years leading up to that point, DFW had stagnated for American. The airline was more focused on building up its other “cornerstones” in places like LA and New York while keeping DFW flat. But after the US Airways acquisition of American, the new management team decided DFW could become the airline’s Atlanta, and it started growing its presence quickly.

After a short breather during the pandemic, American has continued its torrid pace at DFW, but it is running out of room.

Over the years, there have been some minor modifications to squeeze capacity out of the airport. The airport built the 9-gate E satellite building that served Delta’s hub from 1988 until it was shut down in 2005. (The satellite reopened in 2012 for Spirit, being given to American Eagle’s most-hated flights in 2019.)

There were also a stinger built at the north end of B that created 10 more regional gates in 2014. The airport also extended B to the south to get a three more gates (though I don’t know when that happened), and did the same in D in 2021 to get 4 new gates. But those only gave dribs and drabs for the expanding airline. American wants to keep growing at DFW, and something larger has been proposed many times over the years to satisfy those needs.

One of the hold-ups was a renewal of the Use and Lease Agreement between American and DFW that expired in 2020 but had been extended during the pandemic. A new 10-year deal has been signed, and that has cleared the way for… another “dribs and drabs” type of plan. Instead of building a full new terminal, this new deal contains provisions to build 24 new gates in three parts of the airport, only 9 of which are specifically allotted to American.

The new plan can be seen in pink in the below map.

Created with GIMP

American’s nine gates will be split between two new piers, one in A and the other in C. The C pier will extend out of the south Skylink stop in that terminal while the A pier will extend out of the north Skylink stop in that building. That does make for a longer walk from the curb than most locals are used to, but for connections it will be easy thanks to the train.

The piers aren’t identical. The C pier will take out five existing gates but add nine, creating a net of four new gates. Meanwhile the A pier will also take out five existing gates but add ten, so it will have five net new gates. That’s how American gets to nine net new gates.

At the same time, DFW will finally get around to renovating the entire ancient Terminal C altogether. That terminal has barely been touched over the years, something that now is even more obvious since its neighbor Terminal A has gone through a full renovation.

All of that work, combined with some roadway improvements, will cost $2.72 billion.

The other 15 new gates come from the construction of a long-awaited new Terminal F. But this is no fancy building. Instead, it will just be a rectangular concourse with room for 15 gates. It will be built just outside the Skylink train track with a connector making for easy transit between terminals.

According to a spokesperson, there will be no headhouse (ticketing/baggage-check area). Instead, there will be new space added to Terminal E where passengers can check-in and go through security.

They are calling this “Phase 1” with the plan being to eventually build a headhouse some day. But even this concourse alone is expected to cost $1.63 billion. It’s incredible to think how construction costs continue to skyrocket, even for a simple rectangle like this.

Though the A and C piers are specifically noted in the press release as being American’s, no such claim is made for F. Presumably this will allow for some expansion from carriers in Terminal E like Spirit, but I can’t imagine American would have agreed to a deal without ensuring it would get the bulk of any new gates. Maybe this will free up more space in E for American. Or maybe American will take F in the end. That part is unclear.

In the end, DFW will get 24 new gates. That’s the biggest expansion for the airport since Terminal D opened with 28 gates. But Terminal D was a grand plan while this one is just about getting gates as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

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51 comments on “Dallas/Fort Worth Sets Plans to Accommodate American’s Growth

  1. Over $100 million per gate for the new terminal does seem awfully expensive for an airport not located in the Northeast, NYC, or West Coast, especially given that the price doesn’t include a new headhouse or new runways, and (presumably) requires only minimal new taxiways and additional apron space to be built. Yikes.

    I don’t think the locals are going to be very happy when they have to actually use the Skylink Train instead of going from curb to security to gate in a hundred or so steps like they are used to.

    1. These absurd costs and glacially slow schedules once again highlight why the PRC is kicking our butts in pretty much everything now. We simply can’t get anything done in a timely manner anymore.

      1. Yeah, sure is a lot easier to get things done when the government can just ignore (or imprison, or shoot) anyone who opposes a project. And no pesky unions.

        We can still do better than Germany did with Berlin Brandenberg, at least.

      2. If you spent time to look under the covers, and not listen to the media headlines, it will become glaringly obvious that the PRC is built on a house of cards.

      3. you’re so right about that. they’ll build an entire bridge suspended 400 feet over a 2 1\2 mile stretch complete and open for business in two months. meanwhile, we’d have endless debates and committees formed on what to name the damn thing! we’re not losing, we’ve lost.

    2. “I don’t think the locals are going to be very happy when they have to actually use the Skylink Train instead of going from curb to security to gate in a hundred or so steps like they are used to.”

      Meh – with the musical chairs AA plays flying out of all 5 terminals, not like that’s been truly possible for a while anyway. Yes, you can still get from curb to security to gate at departure in a couple of minutes, but it’s usually even money that your return flight will be to a different terminal, and so you’re going to lose time headed home instead. It’s also been a local trick for several years now to deliberately park in a different terminal and Skylink over if security is bad in your terminal but empty elsewhere (and now DFW offers deep discounts to purchase terminal parking in advance at a specific terminal). So I tend to doubt the angst level will be terribly high.

    3. On your last point, I don’t think that is going to matter too much. Gates change so often and I’m really hoping to park at my arrival terminal for the flight back. I’ll typically always park in one terminal then Skylink over to my gate anyways. It’s so convenient and I’m certain I’m not the only one.

      If I have to park at A then depart from F, that adds maybe 15 minutes to my car to gate journey.

  2. I said this in an article the other day, it is mind boggling to me that they are not going to put some sort of headhouse at F. If the SkyLink train breaks, which it has been known to do from time to time, AA/DFW better have some buses ready.

      1. TPA, MCO, ATL (except for the T gates. I guess there is a walking option using the moving sidewalks that run parallel to the train but that would certainly suck if you’re in C, D or E.)

        1. Maybe because it is outside and exposed to the elements but it seems to break down or have issues more than any other airport train in my experience. I fly through ATL and DEN quite a bit and those trains seem to run without issue, but they are underground.

          1. Probably better now than my days in ATL but I remember taking lots of moving sidewalks due to slow or delayed trains. Fortunately most of my flights were in A and B!

          1. Honest question about Dulles since I tend to be more dca focused when flying there, is it train only? For some reason I thought those long-legged busses still run? Did they stop?

            1. They still run to the far ends of the concourses furthest from the train stop. But they seem more supplemental in nature.

            2. I had to take it upon returning to IAD (in the crappy UA terminal), before clearing customs. I guess it’s the only way to stay in the secure area, as taking the underground train wouldn’t be. Not a very pleasant experience though, being crammed into there.

  3. How much would it have cost to build another half-circle terminal clone? That rectangle and the resulting asymmetric gives me hives ;)

    1. I agree! I was really hoping they’d build out a 6th horse shoe and complete the original master plan, although nothing works out perfectly like that I guess

      1. Agreed. The lack of the intended symmetry makes my head hurt. Fortunately I never need to go to Dallas or connect here lol.

    1. B was never intended for mainline flights, i.e. large capacity jets. Eagles under 100 pasen. compared to AA at 150 and up creates a gate space seating problem for passengers. People in the passageway instead of sitting in gate area. Very congested.

  4. Although the actual DFW airport charges are not very expensive compared to other airports (ATL and CLT are even lower) AA’s operation at DFW is incredibly expensive to operate from a staffing perspective because of how spread out it is and the number of entrances to each horseshoe shaped terminal. It is simply too expensive to start over and build long parallel concourses so AA has no choice but to build terminal add-ons.
    The best solution will be for F to be assigned to widebody operations by carriers other than AA, allowing AA to not have to operate from any more terminals. I’m not sure their operation in E is large enough to justify spreading staffing there if they can consolidate into other terminals.

    Keep in mind that WN will be able to enter DFW by the time any of this construction is completed and the chances are high that they will add an ORD or IAH-style operation to their other hubs even if the geography of N. Texas and the location of Love Field and DFW less favors adding DFW than for Houston or Chicago.

    and, because the AirTran operates outdoors and is elevated, it is far more subject to weather issues than indoor trains such as at ATL, DEN, or DTW. I am not the only person that has spent time sitting in one of the stopped SkyLink cars wondering if I will get to my connecting gate

    N. Texas is a strong and economically growing region so investment in DFW makes sense but severe weather often has a much larger impact on AA’s total operation than the largest hubs do for any other airline.

    1. ORD has entered the chat. If you want to identify an airport train with a long history of failures, look no further. Only in Chicago would something break because of the cold.

      1. WN’s DEN operations team would enter the chat, but is still frozen from the December cold snap. <:-X

    2. “Because the AirTran operates outdoors and is elevated”

      Can confirm. Back before Southwest bought ’em, all of my flights on AirTran were definitely outdoors and at high elevation.

  5. A couple of thoughts:
    1. I wonder if Delta wishes it would have stuck with DFW. Afterall, the metroplex is targeted to be the third largest metro area in the country by 2030.
    2. The lack of an F full build is most certainly an attempt to control WN’s access to available gates when the time comes. DFW will pay much more to add a headhouse and gates in the future.
    2A: What’s DFW’s plan for WN? They’re most certainly coming.
    3. Why wouldn’t AA push for all others to locate to F so they can take all of E?

    1. In response to Delta, probably not. They already have several strong hubs and going head to head with American at DFW (and by some virtue, Southwest at Love Field) probably wouldn’t be a winning strategy. If DFW keeps growing maybe they could consider making it a focus city, but a full on hub seems like something they don’t need. Especially with mega hub Atlanta reasonably “nearby.”

        1. Interestingly, AA is down YoY on pax carried in AUS, while the airport is up overall, particularly WN/UA. Still plenty of flights…I expect I’ll fly AA as much this year as I did last year as a % of flights…but experiments like AUS-DEN on AA are gone.

          I actually have Delta Gold for this year but it’s a toss-up whether I’ll utilize it because itineraries are generally more convenient on another airline (usually AA/WN).

      1. I wasn’t necessarily suggesting Delta start a DFW hub now, but rather wonder if they’re lamenting the fact they left years ago. Now, with DFW’s growth trajectory, being a two-airline hub airport is more reasonable (ie. ORD, LAX, NYC, DEN).

        1. I understand what you were saying and it is an interesting question. I connected on DL through DFW several times in the early to mid 1990s and always thought it had a comparable operation to AA. When they announced they were closing the hub, it surprised me, because I thought it was an important hub. However, I flew through there on DL about a month after the announcement and was surprised to see it had become a shell of its old self. It had become a mostly RJ operation (both my flights included). I don’t know exactly when DL decided to neglect/downsize the hub (maybe after 9/11), but it’s obvious AA seized on it and made them largely irrelevant. I’m sure DL wishes now that the operation had been strong enough to keep, but obviously in the years after 9/11 when airlines were still hemorrhaging money, it probably made sense to consolidate to their stronger hubs.

      2. Delta has done a great job, both by strategy and by happenstance, of having extremely fortressey hubs.

        Taking capacity away from their dominance at ATL, DTW, MSP and SLC and allocating it to DFW just to clash with AA (just like AA and UA at ORD) does not seem like an improvement over their current strategy.

    2. Per #3, they probably are but it’s not something anyone would announce a couple years out. It’s not uncommon for the dominant carrier to push smaller carriers at an airport to a less convenient place in the airport:

      ATL/DL and pushing OA to the middle terminals as much as they can
      DEN/UA pushing AA out to C from A
      CLT/AA pushing new carriers to the new A gates (they’re nice and new, but it’s just about the longest walk in the airport ex-E)
      SLC/DL forcing every non-DL passenger to walk two miles to get to their gate.

      That will certainly make DL’s 20 minute bag guarantee tough to make if they have to offload bags at F and take them to baggage claim at E.

      Something that hasn’t been mentioned much in terms of the design of the new terminal, is how relatively easy it would be to lengthen it. You have the airplane bridge to the south of it but, if you already knew that decades old bridge needed to be replaced at some point, F would be relatively easy to lengthen or with a 90 degree turn to add more gates where it would end looking more like Terminal D in the long run. It’s the same modular style as the new C gates.

      1. Good point on the dominant carriers making life harder for everybody else. Another notable example is UA and AA pushing all of their non alliance partners, including Delta, to the separate (and way less convenient) T5 at O’Hare as part of ORD21.

  6. I’m sure it’s my OCD but I’m struggling with why they would build the two stubby things in lieu of just making the F rectangle a right angle that attaches to the existing blue extension.

  7. I just flew thru DFW (terminal C for both arriving & departing connection flight!) and thought WOW, this terminal is OLD and needs to be freshened up! So sad they couldn’t have done some work during the pandemic.

    On my return I flew thru PHX – really frustrating that there is NO signage on what food/shop options are where – and the AA app was difficult to use to figure out where I wanted to go eat.

  8. My predictions for F: That’ll be where Frontier, Spirit, VivaAerobus, Volaris, and a few of the other cats and dogs will go. The E satellite will go back to being an AA thing. Maybe DL/UA stay in E, but other than those airlines I figure A-E will be AA/OW.

    When (not if) WN comes on the scene, I figure they’ll get a gate or two in E and stop there. I doubt they’ll live with being pushed to F.

    One question is whether wide-bodies will get out at F; will that rectangle have Customs? If so, this kinda feels like a MSC situation, with a mix of intl flights (where being in the middle of nowhere at the airport matters less) and ULCCs (where they’ll happily go to the middle of nowhere to save a buck).

  9. I’ve only been to DFW as a connecting passenger, but it seems odd they wouldn’t add check in, security screening, or baggage claims to terminal F – the existing space in terminal E doesn’t seem that big as it is.

  10. With that much long term money in the pot between needless mandated ‘environmental impact studies’, AA with obvious influence (that they have earned), and mounds of red tape, my jaded self says this project will wind up taking two years longer and have cost overruns.

  11. This sounds like an agreement between AA and DFW to offer a back-handed option to Southwest when they start ops in 2026/27. AA gets their expansion desires, OALs can still have E and spill to F, and WN has their requests accommodated as well in the form of a new terminal like Love and plenty of gates to use (Love only gives them 18).

    Sure, you get a fancy new terminal operation if you’re WN; however, it comes at the cost of a tedious curb to gate transfer process. On the flip side, most local passengers will probably still opt for Love Field if using WN. Maybe WN will view DFW as a relief connecting hub? By the end of the decade, DFW will most likely be the 3rd largest metro area in the US. Lots of potential demand on the horizon for everyone!

    Overall, I’m not sure what to make of the DFW management as of late. They used to be very friendly and accommodating to ALL airlines. Now it just seems like they’ve done their best to piss off every airline not named AA over the past few years, especially the international non-oneworld carriers. It’s nice to see growth as a local resident, but I would’ve preferred to see expansion that follows the horseshoe design with the modernization of A & D terminals with more gates than what was announced.

  12. Most metro population forecasts I see on line for 2030 show Dallas/Fort Worth at number 5 moving up from number 6 in 2010.

    1 New York
    2 LA
    3 Chicago
    4 Houston
    5 Dallas Fort Worth
    6 Miami
    7 Philly
    8 Atlanta
    9 DC
    10 Phoenix

    1. DFW is larger than Houston now. The DFW metro population blew past 8 million last year. Houston is about 7.3 million.

      1. Interesting, guess it depends on how many counties they count within the metro area. I’ve seen numbers from 6.9 million up to over 8 million.

  13. My biggest issue as a local DFW passenger is the lack of terminal parking. We already see Terminals C and D parking routinely fill up, and we are going to add 24 gates with no added spaces.

    WRT Southwest, my belief is that rather than move some flights to DFW, they will use the threat of doing so to force Dallas to expand the Love Field terminal, which was limited at 20 gates.

    Local residents may cry and moan but Dallas wants to keep that traffic there and not at DFW. The population growth trends are already flying away from the city center and if Southwest moves a chunk of flying to DFW it will just make it worse.

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