A tour of the new technology-heavy passenger gates at DFW

Jun 4, 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought global travel to a near-halt, devastating airlines’ financials and squeezing crucial revenue streams for airports, but there was one silver lining: As airport traffic plummeted, airlines had more time and space to complete certain infrastructure projects.

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New terminal and roadway construction at New York’s Laguardia airport finished months ahead of schedule, for instance. Boston Logan, while reducing the overall scale of a planned project due to the revenue loss, was able to speed up runway safety work thanks to the reduced activity.

It all means that as travelers return to the skies after a year of quarantine, they may be in for a surprise as they encounter brand new airport facilities where there used to be dilapidated gates — or even nothing at all.

One such airport: Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), home to American Airlines.

The airport continued a variety of infrastructure programs during the pandemic, and is just beginning to unveil completed projects.

During a recent trip through the American Airlines hub, TPG had a chance to check out the brand new gates in Terminal D.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Terminal D is the airport’s major international terminal. Along with wide-body American Airlines flights, the terminal normally hosts airlines like Emirates, Lufthansa, Qatar and Korean Air (all of which offer lounges in the terminal). It’s also where you’ll find the American Express Centurion Lounge.

The $160 million project adds four gates, numbered 1 though 4, to the terminal — previously, the gates at the terminal were numbered starting at 5. A new building, it adds a whopping 145,592 square feet to the terminal (61,820 sq. ft. of that is the main concourse; the rest is for airport operations).

DFW recently began operations at the four gates as part of a “soft launch” as it wraps up the last few details, primarily using them for domestic flights — although the gates are equipped for both domestic and international arrivals.

While the rest of the terminal doesn’t exactly feel cramped, the new gates are certainly more spacious, not to mention bright and airy.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

It draws heavily on a lounge-type atmosphere, said Ken Buchanan, the airport’s executive vice president of customer experience and revenue management. And there’s no question: it shows.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

There’s seating all over the place. Next to the gate, next to windows, and next to every restaurant or shop (some of which hadn’t opened yet during our tour), featuring a variety of styles.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

The area feels large for just four gates, which is deliberate, Buchanan said. They’re wide enough to accommodate virtually any aircraft type (aside from an A380), necessitating a degree of difference.

More: American has finished adding seats to its Boeing 737 fleet — and the Airbus A321s are just a step behind

But for passengers, the main novelty won’t be the space or the seats, but rather the impact of new tech.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

The terminal windows are covered with dynamic smart glass, which doubles as screens, allowing passengers to see flight information virtually wherever they are in the space. The glass can also tint darker under direct sunlight, helping keep the terminal cooler. There are plenty of other screens, too, as well as color-coded lights at each gate to highlight when the boarding process begins.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

While there are several restaurants and bars, there’s no need to actually visit them. Instead, passengers can order it from their phones and have it delivered to their seat by scanning a QR code. If you haven’t really settled into a seat yet, or you want to move around before your flight, you can order via a kiosk and choose to pick your order up at a centralized station, instead.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Then, there’s perhaps the most important part of any airport terminal: the bathrooms.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Along with a helpful system of red and green lights to show which stalls are available, the bathrooms are outfitted with an array of sensors that feed into a tablet carried by the terminal facilities manager. They’ll know whenever supplies of soap, paper towels, or toiler paper start to run low, allowing them to bring replacements before they run out, Buchanan said.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

With more of the world reopening and travel counts ticking back up, travelers can look forward to more surprises as they return to airports and see that things aren’t quite what they remember.

Featured photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

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