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Your Layover Guide to Dallas (DFW)

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Our Your Layover Guide series features airports and destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as some things to do if you find yourself with time to explore the nearby city. Today, new TPG Contributor Betsy Mikel guides us through Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the world’s third-busiest airport.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

You may be surprised to learn that the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Dallas, Texas is the third busiest airport in the world. It’s huge — the size of Manhattan — with 27 airlines serving 149 domestic and 55 international destinations. No matter where you’re traveling in the continental US, you’ll be at your destination in four hours or less when you fly from DFW.

Whether you’re laid over at DFW for a few hours or a whole day, the airport offers a range of interesting activities, restaurants and shopping. There’s lots to keep you busy while you wait for your next flight.

At the Airport

Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
American Airlines plane outside the airport at night. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

DFW is a hub for American Airlines and several well-traveled domestic and international routes. Major airlines with routes through DFW include Alaska, American, British Airways, Delta, United JetBlue and Qantas. The airport’s gates welcomed 63.5 million passengers last year.

Terminals A, B, C and E serve domestic destinations; Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta are DFW’s most frequently flown US routes. Terminal D serves all international routes; London, Cancun and Mexico City are the airport’s busiest. To get between terminals in five minutes, hop on the Skylink train.

The Skylink train at DFW connects passengers between all terminals in five minutes or less. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
The Skylink train at DFW connects passengers between all terminals in five minutes or less. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Imagine three donuts in a line, then sliced down the middle: There’s your visual for how DFW is laid out. Each of the five terminals at DFW are shaped much like a semi-circle on either side of International Parkway, the major north-south highway that brings passengers in and out. The sixth “half donut” is the $11 daily Parking Express South lot, offering free shuttle service to all terminals (with complimentary bottled water, newspaper and updated flight information to boot). There’s also a Parking Express North Lot. For $22 daily, you can park at any terminal, just a covered walkway or moving sidewalk away from your flight.

All terminals have three TSA checkpoints for a total of 15 airport-wide security checkpoints. Looking for the shortest line? The checkpoints at Terminal B15-B28, Terminal B29-B39 and Terminal E12-E30 consistently have the shortest wait times, according to iFly.com. Find TSA Precheck at A20, C20, D22, D30 and E18, but not at Terminal B.

Special Features

DFW offers free Wi-Fi in all terminals and parking garages, plus USB charging stations at the following gates: A10, C6, C20, C27, C35, D21, D23, D30, D40, E10, E14 and E36. If you need to squeeze in some work or a Netflix binge during your layover, grab a seat at one at a free travel lounges (find them at A29, B8, B28, C8, C27 and E8), which offer workstation-style seating and power outlets. You’ll also find free computer kiosks throughout the airport for quick web surfing.

To get the blood pumping before your next flight, check out the walking path in Terminal D, which extends seven-tenths of a mile. Take things up a notch and add the two staircases leading up to the Skylink train to your route.

Yoga studio at DFW airport, between Terminals B and D.
Yoga studio at DFW airport, between Terminals B and D. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

There’s also a free 24-hour yoga studio near tucked between Terminals B and D. It’s at the end of the walking path, closest to D40. If you’re lucky, you just might catch yourself in tree pose beside Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson.

Got little ones in tow? They’ll love the Junior Flyer’s Clubs — open air areas where kids can climb, crawl and play on soft foam planes and cars at A13, B12, C14 and D39 — and you’ll love the nearby seating areas with charging stations for your phone.

DFW also boasts an art collection featuring the work of over 30 artists. Find their paintings, sculptures and floor medallions in Skylink stations, in Terminal D, and in the sculpture garden outside the Terminal D parking garage.

Floor medallion inside DFW. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Floor medallion inside DFW. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

A few other DFW features to keep you busy while on a long layover:

  • Rent a private Minute Suite at D23 — 32″ screen equipped with high-speed Internet, flight tracking information and DirecTV. One-hour rentals start at $38, and a 30-minute hot shower is $25 extra.
  • Get a massage, manicure or pedicure at Xpress Spa at D20 and D24. Prices start at $35. The full spa at A24 offers haircuts.
  • Founder’s Plaza is a six-acre observation area on the north side of the airport that kids and aviation fans enjoy. It’s free to catch the wide open view of planes flying in and out. There are picnic areas, telescopes and a radio that broadcasts air traffic control communications from the FAA tower.
  • The 36-hole Bear Creek Golf Course is on DFW property. Book your tee time online.

Shopping

Overhead shot of shops at DFW. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Overhead shot of shops at DFW. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Once through security, you’ll have the opportunity to buy Western wear and Texas memorabilia (C33, E34, D12, B23) and Dallas Cowboys gear (C26, D23 and E13) nearly everywhere you turn. There’s even a Dallas Cowboys for Her at D10.

Other popular shops include Geppetto’s Toys at A1, Brookstone at D20, Brighton Jewelry & Accessories at A17 and A37, Sound Balance at A11, and Brooks Brothers (D26, E16 and C14.)

Dining

Alongside the airport staples such as Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Chili’s Too and Starbucks, you’ll find several unique-to-DFW restaurants such as:

  • Cereality at C6: Grab breakfast, for any meal. At this cereal bar, choose from a variety of cereals, then add your own toppings — make yours as healthy or sugar-coated as you like.
  • IceBox Café at A14: For homestyle fresh baked goods, head to the first airport location of this Miami-based bakery (Psst …. this is one of Oprah’s favorite cakeries.) The Terminal B location projected to open in Winter 2015.
  • Ling & Louie’s at A13: The self-described “not for boring people” restaurant serves Asian and Southern comfort food. Order everything from sushi and pad thai to meatloaf and burgers.
  • Vino Volo at A17: Sit and stay awhile at the wine lounge with a small plates and tapas menu.
  • Wild Bleu Martini Bar at A9: Come not just for the cocktails and drinks. The upscale Mediterranean grill serves breakfast, lunch and dinner menu items such as baba ganoush, shrimp scampi and filet mignon.
Art installation inside DFW. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Art installation inside DFW. Photo courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Lounges

  • American Airlines Admirals Club lounges are located at A24 (open daily 4:45 am-10:15 pm), B3 (open daily 6am-9:30pm), C20 (open daily 4am-10:15pm) and D24 (open 5am-10:15 pm); $50 a day without Admirals Club Membership.
  • Delta Sky Club at E22 (Sun-Fri 4:45am-7:30pm, Saturday 4:45am-6:30pm; $50 at the door without Delta SkyClub membership)
  • The United Club at E7 (open daily 4:30am-8:00pm; $50 at the door without elite status or United Club membership)
  • The American Express Centurion Lounge at D17 (open daily 5:30am-10pm; $50 at door for American Express cardholders, free for Platinum Card® and Centurion® Members). Check out our preview when the Centurion Lounge first opened in 2013.
  • International lounges are at D21 and access varies. You must be a ticket holder for a same-day flight. These include The Korean Air Lounge, Lufthansa Lounge (11am-4pm), QANTAS Business Lounge (open daily 6-10pm) and British Airways Lounge (open daily 2:30-8:30pm).
  • The Club at DFW at D21 (open daily 7:30am-7:30pm; $35 at the door)

Transport to Dallas

DART Rail Orange Line's station at DFW. Photo courtesy of DART.org.
DART Rail Orange Line’s station at DFW. Photo courtesy of DART.org.

The cheapest way to get to downtown Dallas is by public transportation. You can take DART Rail Orange Line (station at Terminal A), DART bus route 408 (hop on a free bus from any terminal to get to the Remote South Parking Lot, where you’ll find the DFW Remote South station) or the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter rail (hop on a free bus from any terminal to get to Remote South Park Lot where you’ll find the CentrePort/DFW Airport Station; no Sunday service). A 2-hour pass is $2.50, and a day pass is $5.

If you’d prefer a taxi, grab one from the upper level of Terminals A, B, C and E, and on the lower level of Terminal D. Flat rates start at $45; see full rate info on the DFW website.

Shared shuttle services include City Shuttle, GO Yellow Checker Shuttle and SuperShuttle. Rates vary depending on where you’re going, but you can calculate an estimate online with each company.

Uber and Lyft also operate in Dallas.

Dallas/Fort Worth rental car options include Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, E-Z Rent-A-Car, Hertz, National, Sixt Rent-a-Car and Thrifty. Follow the Rental Car signs to the designated pickup area on the lower level of the terminal where you can get on the rental car shuttle bus. Buses run 24/7 and depart every five minutes. The trip to the rental car lots is about 10 minutes.

If You Have Half a Day

Dallas' Old Red Museum. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
The Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Pick a downtown Dallas neighborhood to explore for a morning or afternoon. All of the below are accessible by DART.

Head to Main Street District to get to the city center. Shop at the landmark Neiman Marcus where you can dine at The Zodiac. The Thanks-Giving Square garden, chapel and museum offers a tranquil space with greenery, waterfalls and exhibits. You might catch live music or a festival at Pegasus Plaza and Main Street Garden.

Art lovers will enjoy the Pearl/Arts District. Here you’ll find not only most of the Dallas area performing arts venues, but also several urban green spaces with public art, plus museums such as the Nasher Sculpture Center, The Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the Dallas Museum of Art. For $10, take a 90-minute architectural walking tour throughout the neighborhood.

For shopping, eating and entertainment, head to the historic West End District. Stop by Dealey Plaza’s grassy knoll (where JFK was shot) and visit the still-standing 1892 red county courthouse, which houses the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture.

If You Have a Whole Day

The above neighborhoods are close to each other, so make a day out of visiting a couple or all three. You may want to swing by another neighborhood such as the up-and-coming Deep Ellum (The Deep Ellum taproom and the Cane Rosso Napoletana-style pizza are local favorites.)

Looking for lunch? Head to Klyde Warren Park, 5.2-acre public park near downtown Dallas, where a variety of food trucks serve up delicious food from 11am-3 pm each day. You’ll also find Zumba, Yoga and Tai Chi classes here as well as family-friendly activities.

You may be able to squeeze in a visit to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum or Dallas World Aquarium — though keep in mind these are not all close to downtown and will likely require a car.

If You Have the Night

Glimpse the runway from your bed at the Grand Hyatt DFW. Photo courtesy of the hotel.
Glimpse the runway from your bed at the Grand Hyatt DFW. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

Airport hotels include Hyatt Regency DFW next to Terminal C (from $179 or 8,000 Gold Passport points/night) and Grand Hyatt DFW (from $239 or 12,000 Gold Passport points/night) right inside Terminal D.

Kick back on the rooftop pool at the Sheraton Dallas. Photo courtesy of the hotel.
Kick back on the rooftop pool at the Sheraton Dallas. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

If you spend the night downtown, chose from Hyatt Regency Dallas (from $159 or 8,000 Gold Passport points/night), Homewood Suites by Hilton (from $149 or 30,000 HHonors points/night), Hilton Garden Inn Dallas/Market Center (from $129 or 20,000 HHonors Points/night), Hampton Inn & Suites Dallas Market Center (from $129 or 30,000 HHonors Points), the Sheraton Dallas ($136 or 7,000 Starwood Points/night), the Sheraton Suites Market Center Dallas (from $97 or 7,000 Starwood Points/night.)

The unique pool at the Joule hotel in Dallas .
The seemingly insane unique pool at The Joule in Dallas. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

For a more upscale experience, book a night at The Joule — and be sure to check out their perilously perched rooftop pool (from $299/night).

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