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
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.
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.