Your Layover Guide to Detroit (DTW)
Our “Your Layover Guide” series features airports and destinations 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, TPG Contributor Michele Herrmann guides us through Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
In just over a decade, Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport (DTW) has undergone a major renaissance, with two recently built terminals and a multi-phase redevelopment of the Edward H. McNamara Terminal’s food/beverage area currently underway.
DTW’s two terminals serve a total of 14 carriers. The McNamara Terminal, which opened in 2002, houses Delta (DTW is a hub for the carrier), Air France and Virgin Atlantic. The North Terminal, the smaller and younger sibling, contains Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Royal Jordanian, Southwest, Spirit, United and US Airways.
At the Airport
Anyone who says that airport-bound layovers are boring probably hasn't been to DTW. Its three concourses —A, B and C — and the McNamara Terminal are interconnected by an underground "Light Tunnel," an installation designed by Pontiac, Michigan-based FoxFire Glass that grabs your attention with multicolor LED lighting and sound.
At the center of Concourse A, you'll find an art installation called "Water Feature," a black-granite fountain that shoots up multiple streams of water, replicating lines on a flight map. If this isn't soothing enough for you, head to Gate A45, where the Be Relax spa offers chair massages and manicures.
Delta has four SkyClubs in McNamara Terminal. The largest — at a whopping 19,000 square feet — is in the center of Concourse A, overlooking the central link area. You'll find two more on either end of Concourse A, at the North and South express-tram stations, respectively. The fourth is at the intersection of concourses B and C.
Lufthansa is the only Star Alliance carrier with a DTW lounge; you'll find it in the North Terminal, near Gate D6.
Members of the US Armed Forces and their families can relax inside the Freedom Center, a free hospitality lounge that's open daily and found near McNamara's Gate A43.
Note that DTW doesn't offer luggage storage, so it’s best to check with your airline to see what options you have.
In both terminals, most dining options are post-security. You'll find a mix of national brands and Michigan institutions, including bars, cafes, quick-service spots and sit-down restaurants.
McNamara's Concourse A offers a Longhorn Steakhouse, Sora Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar, P.F. Chang’s and an Illy Coffee & Fountain Bar. Opened in June 2015, a branch of Andiamo, a well-known Metro Detroit Italian restaurant, offers upscale dining with breakfast, lunch and dinner options. By 2016, 25 new food and beverage concepts will be available in McNamara, including an outpost of the Detroit-based Corridor Sausage Company and a dining experience inspired by the city's Eastern Market.
At Concourse B, offerings include Thee Irish/Guinness Pub and the Michigan-based Coffee Beanery Café, while Concourse C includes a martini lounge and Canadian export Tim Horton’s Coffee.
In the North Terminal, standout eateries include Hockeytown Café (a nod to the Detroit Red Wings) and National Coney Island, which serves the classic Coney Dog, a Detroit delicacy of chili, mustard and onions.
McNamara Terminal’s Central Link retail mall area features a number of high-end stores, including Brookstone, Brooks Brothers, Desigual and a PGA Tour Shop, along with about 10 different travel stores selling gifts, periodicals and books. At the Estée Lauder Beauty Boutique, domestic and international passengers can get a computer-guided skin-care analysis or a mini-makeover while browsing luxury beauty products and fragrances.
The North Terminal has a CNBC Smartshop, a duty free shop, Gayle’s Chocolates and Sports Illustrated specialty stores, as well as a handful of electronics shops and travel-item boutiques.
For local souvenirs, McNamara Terminal’s Detroit store and North Terminal’s Detroit Market Place stock made-in-Michigan goods.
Getting Around — In and Out of DTW
McNamara Terminal's Concourse A is a mile long, so if you want to get to your gate faster, hop on the ExpressTram. This elevated system has two ongoing trains that stop at three stations near check-in areas, Baggage Claim, Ground Transportation, the Light Tunnel and gates.
Both McNamara and North terminals have Ground Transportation Centers with 24/7 official taxicab service, as well as luxury-sedan service Metro Cars. Rental car services include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty. Uber also picks up and drops off at DTW.
On weekdays during peak hours (6-9am and 3-6pm), SMART buses run from the McNamara Terminal to downtown Detroit, with fixed-route fares for $2 and transfers for 25 cents. During daily off-peak hours and on Saturdays and Sundays, SMART buses will only travel to Detroit's city limits, where Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) bus service takes over.
The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (also known as TheRide) offers AirRide service on the Michigan Flyer coach bus shuttle between DTW and either Ann Arbor (standard fares are $12 one-way, $22 round-trip) or East Lansing (one rider — $30 one-way, $50 round-trip; two riders — $50 one-way, $80 round-trip).
If You Have Half a Day
Once you reach downtown Detroit, The Detroit People Mover can take you to 13 different stops at or near attractions like the Detroit Tiger’s Comerica Park, Joe Louis Arena and Detroit Lion’s Ford Field, as well as Greektown, Grand Circus Park and the re-developed Detroit Riverfront (75 cents per ride).
To learn more about Detroit from a local’s perspective, take a tour with the Detroit Experience Factory. Music lovers will enjoy the city's Motown Museum, and art aficionados should check out the Detroit Institute of Arts, or "The Z," a 10-level parking garage/art gallery. Or if you either liked or missed having a Coney Island Dog at DTW, do a taste test between American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island.
If You Have a Full Day
Head to Dearborn, about a 15-minute car ride from DTW, to visit the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The museum focuses on American innovation and houses artifacts from key moments in American history (e.g., Abraham Lincoln's chair from Ford’s Theatre), while the village encompasses Ford's birthplace and workshop. Also in Dearborn, the Ford Rouge Factory Tour includes a peek at the assembly line that produces the Ford F-150, visible from an overhead walkway.
If you happen to be around on a day when Detroit's historic Eastern Market is open, head downtown instead and scope out the vendors selling fruits, vegetables and specialty goods. Or head to Belle Isle Park for great views of both Detroit and Windsor, Canada, as well as attractions like the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, which illustrates Detroit’s maritime history.
If You Have the Night
The nearest hotel to DTW is really close, set adjacent to McNamara Terminal. The Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport allows its registered overnight guests to apply for access to McNamara's restaurants and shops through a pre-approved TSA screening; once approved, guests checking out with just carry-on luggage and boarding pass in hand can go through security at a dedicated checkpoint. The Category 4 SPG property has a fitness center, an indoor pool with a view of the runway and the Reflections restaurant/lounge. Rates start at $99 or 10,000 Starpoints per night.
There are two other SPG Category 4 options in Detroit, though both are downtown. The artsy Aloft Detroit at The David Whitney starts at $189 or 10,000 Starpoints per night, while the all-business Westin Book Cadillac Detroit starts at $229 or 10,000 Starpoints per night.
Naturally, there are several downtown options belonging to different hotel loyalty programs, as well. The HHonors Category 5 Hilton Garden Inn starts at $199 or 30,000 points per night, while the Marriott Rewards Category 5 Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center starts at $189 or 25,000 points per night. IHG's Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront Hotel starts at $162 or 30,000 IHG Rewards points (or 20,000 points + $70) per night and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Detroit Downtown starts at $158 or 20,000 IHG Rewards points (or 10,000 points + $70) per night.
If you opt to head to Dearborn, consider a stay at The Dearborn Inn, a Marriott Hotel, where rates start $159 or 25,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.
Share your own DTW layover tips in the comments below!