Airside E is home to Delta Air Lines, TIA's second-largest carrier. The shuttle lobby for that airside extends deep into the third level of the terminal building.
Seating installed opposite the lobby leaves little room for foot traffic, a problem that doesn't exist on the opposite side of the floor.
"It is like fish in a can here," said Adrienne Charnock, 27, of Le Havre, France, who was waiting with her sister, Michele, for a flight to New York to make a connection to Paris.
"Here, on the plane, everywhere we are squeezed," she said.
Across the way, outside the shuttle lobby for Airside C foot traffic flowed freely. C is home to Southwest Airlines, TIA's largest carrier.
"It doesn't seem bad to me," said Kendall Jenkins, 22, of Dallas, who was headed back to graduate school after an extended spring break.
"It's a mess over there," he said, nodding toward Airside E. "But I don't see building a whole new airport just to get rid of one bottleneck."
The problem is that another 5-million to 8-million passengers a year in the landside terminal could turn the whole thing into a bottleneck.
Officials don't want to allow that and risk losing TIA's reputation as one of the most user-friendly airports in the world.
"We're studying several ways to fix the problem of seating and crowd control at Airside E that will hold us until the new terminal complex is built," airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said.
When phase one of the north complex is done, Wheat said, pressure will ease on the south complex.
"On day one we will move 25 percent of the South Terminal operations to the North Terminal," he said.
Miller added, "We will never let the South Terminal get under pressure again. As soon as we see this threat, we will begin to build the second phase of the new complex. It would be a two-year deal."
For the most part, the two complexes will look and operate a lot alike.
"This terminal complex works, no doubt about it," Miller said. "So we will replicate it and fix what shortcomings we've found here over the years."
If they had it to do over again, officials might not design the Airside E shuttle lobby to take up so much space on the third level. And they would expand the roadways around the arrival and departure areas.
"They came close to getting it right the first time," Miller said. "We'll just tweak some things."
The money would pay for a third north-south runway, new taxiways, extensive road expansion, more parking, and a new north terminal with a 14-gate airside.
If plans pan out, there will be a third north-south runway to accommodate commercial aviation traffic.
The airport has successfully reduced curbside congestion in recent months with a number of initiatives.
Airport officials want the study, which is estimated to cost about $430,000, to be completed by Oct. 31, 2007.