Doing it Big in Texas

April 19, 2013
Dallas/Fort Worth International cues up the opening act of its $2.3 billion TRIP program. Phase I – a revamped Terminal A – began welcoming passengers on a new airport journey in April


“These improvements make DFW more efficient and competitive for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Perfecto Solis, Vice President of Airport Development and Engineering, DFW

“From the moment passengers arrive at DFW to the time they walk on the airplane, we want them to be as stress-free as possible.”

 Kevin Cox, Vice-President of Real Estate, American Airlines,

It’s long been said that Texas does things big -- and at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) that saying translates into a massive transformation as part of a seven-year, $2.3 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program (TRIP).

The first phase of this project took off in April as the airport opened the gates on its Terminal A revamp, which included renovations to Gates 1 to 16; state-of-the-art technology; upgrading mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and moving around key aspects of business to better serve customers, says DFW's Vice President of Airport Development and Engineering Perfecto Solis. “These improvements make DFW more efficient and competitive for the next 30 to 40 years” he adds. 

American Airlines, which has has flights in and out of Terminals A and C, with subsidiary American Eagle at Terminal B, saw this program as an opportunity to renovate its own passengers' experiences. “From the moment passengers arrive at DFW to the time they walk on the airplane, we want them to be as stress-free as possible,” says American's Vice-President of Real Estate, Kevin Cox.

He uses the phrase next-generation airport to describe the experience at DFW, one that eases travel and removes unnecessary obstacles for passengers on the way to their flights, which just might be the trip they've been dreaming of.

Revamping Inside Out

The airport's facilities date back to 1974, with the exception of Terminal D and the new train system built in the early 2000s. Originally the facility was expected to serve as a regional airport, and its likely its developers never have imagined it would reach the status it has today, says Solis.

With the conclusion of the capital improvement project in 2005[r1] , airport officials turned their attention to the interior. From electrical to plumbing and airport-wide WiFi to premium concessions, the TRIP initiative is DFW's opportunity to make this international airport that next-generation facility Cox describes. 

Seventy percent of the improvements comprise enhancements passengers will never see, but will experience in some way. For example, newly installed harvest day-lighting systems centered in ceiling tiles measure ambient light and kick off the interior lights when appropriate. And, while DFW once lacked the ability to control terminal temperatures from a single location, after the conclusion of TRIP in late 2017, this function will run from the airport's central utility plant.

A consistent temperature benefits customers and employees alike, but also benefits the facility itself.  The utility plant was at capacity prior to the Terminal A revamp, but now has capacity left over because of the energy savings these changes generate.  Solis says that a 30-percent average reduction in operating costs is expected for the terminals once all new systems are integrated. Creating these efficiencies is also allowing DFW to expand with 19 new gates and other projects, all while maintaining operating expenses.  

Technology has been a large part of the efficiency boost in Terminal A. iPads benefit superintendents and foremen, who no longer carry rolls of drawings with them, says Solis. “Everything is technology-based,” he adds, nothing that video conferencing enables managers to make decisions from wherever they are. USB ports are available to charge devices, as are traditional outlets.

When storms hit, DFW will boast the world's largest Public Address Voice Evacuation System (PAVE). All terminals will be notified simultaneously in the event of weather concerns or other emergencies.

Forty communications rooms throughout the five terminals will connect via 8 million linear feet of fiber optic cables and 2 million linear feet of speaker wire. Previously the horseshoe-shaped terminals lacked a common fiber optic backbone, says Solis. “It's all about continuity,” he adds. “A big part of what we're doing in TRIP is to provide that infrastructure.”

Foundation for the Future

Solis says that part of the Terminal A project was gutting it to the shell. “We now have a clear understanding of what and where,” he explains. Nearly 40 years of building and renovations have occurred, with nothing taken out along the way. He says it was “crazy Grandma's attic” when the tiles came down.

From an asset management viewpoint, TRIP has given DFW a clear understanding of where systems are and a 3D model that can be passed down without leaving questions unanswered. System locations, maintenance and warranties are all cohesive and organized – a major milestone with clear value, Solis says.

While all in-house improvements are done by DFW, American Airlines is happy to have had a say in upgrades from cabinetry to amenities. This participation helped the airline roll out new branding elements and the color schemes complement the area, says Cox.

A cornerstone of the program is continuity, echoes Solis again. He says all four terminals will have largely the same look and feel, and the unexpected new branding with American actually came at a good time.

Removing the traditional, large cabinetry throughout the terminal helps make the passenger experience more friendly, says Cox. More personal kiosks take away barriers between American employees and customers. This has been implemented throughout, from ticketing to boarding.

Passengers want the ability to walk up to a kiosk, have their bag tagged, drop it on a belt, and walk away, Solis explains.

American has been a close partner with DFW, to help make this TRIP successful and a benefit for all parties involved. Solis understands that in seven years when TRIP is finished, systems may be obsolete. That's why the north end of Terminal A has been a “test lab,” he says. “We're seeing great feedback from passengers, but it would not surprise me if I'm sitting down with American Airlines in a few months discussing options.”

Coming In From the Outside  

“We've had the opportunity to rearrange the deck chairs,” Solis states, adding this is a common phrase around DFW.   

The DFW passenger experience has been completely renewed and sets the stage for remaining TRIP renovations. A new, $75 million parking garage at Terminal A was added onto TRIP during the process because planners saw a need. It replaces three structures with five levels, 3-million-square-feet of space and 7,700 spaces.

And from the minute passengers enter that and other parking garages, they have WiFi access. In fact, they have it until they step on a plane at the departure gate. “This is just absolutely huge,” Solis says. “We've empowered our customer.”

Another streamlining effort has been effective line management. This starts as soon as a passenger enters DFW. Cox notes that today many passengers aren't checking bags and/or have their boarding passes printed prior to entering the airport. American and DFW have collaborated to eliminate those extra steps at check-in by offering self-tagging and priority check-in. They have also worked with the TSA to implement significant improvement, which help move the line along for priority passengers, and give others an estimate on wait times.

Dual boarding also cuts down on clutter. Frequent fliers and high-end customers board on one side of the gate and the others on the opposite. This change represents a minor adjustment with a major impact on the travel experience, says Cox.

“From my perspective, just the overall removal of barriers and installation of technology so people can move efficiently through the airport has been the best,” he says, adding that the ticketing area is more streamlined, less congested and enables quick passenger flow.

Concessions Add Character

With 60 million passengers annually and two-thirds using the train system, TRIP also offered a chance to rearrange concessions. The airport maximizes revenue potential by positioning concessions/retail villages around its SkyLink stations, says Solis.

Cox says the concessions in Terminal A are a great addition for the American Airlines' passenger and credits DFW for attracting high-quality vendors. “They are second to none,” he says. “It is like walking into a high-end mall, and has been well-received by the public.” He adds the airline is confident these options will continue to improve the overall passenger experience while also generating revenue for the airport.

The same drive to boost the passenger experience can be found in the concessions department. Solis says they focus on creating intimate spaces that help passengers escape the feeling of being in one of the world's busiest airports.

The concessions department has put time and thoughtful consideration into what types of vendors they want and where. From made-from-scratch bakery to fresh stir fry, the options are many. Solis' team has brought natural gas to the terminal, so cooking can be done on-site.

“People really enjoy the opportunity to come in and experience something new,” he says.

For those with special dietary needs or just looking for something in particular, info centers [r3] allow passengers to search the airport's options and the distance from their location.

The thought in planning extends to understanding the various types of passengers who pass through DFW. Solis says it's important to also appeal to kids and families in addition to traditional business travelers. A giant play space is technology driven and when parents are charging their devices, kids can do Tai Chi, hip hop dancing or yoga along with a computerized wall instructor.

There are spots for people to grab and go, and others for them to sit and relax before a flight. “The airport is really taking charge of that experience,” says Solis. “There is definitely a business strategy behind the concessions' placement.”

DFW now turns its eyes to the mid-section of Terminal A, slated for completion next year and later this year, finishing phases in Terminals E and B. “We're obviously excited about our program,” he says.

It’s safe to say DFW’s TRIP has been a whirlwind adventure. And it’s so big, that its one DFW passengers and employees alike will not soon forget.

BIO: Jen Bradley, owner of Bradley Bylines, is a freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis. She specializes in writing about aviation issues and can be reached via her website,