Southwest Airlines moves to new digs at Nashville with opening of Concourse D
Nashville International Airport is the second major airport to inaugurate a new facility this week with Friday's opening of Concourse D for Southwest Airlines.
Drawing from Nashville's musical heritage, the six-gate concourse features "ribbons" in the terrazzo floor reminiscent of a musical score as well as other design features that draw from the guitars that are staples of country music. However, many aspects will not be fully identifiable until a new central terminal opens three years from now.
The concourse is something of "a preview to the pieces that are going to go into the main terminal" and larger BNA Vision project, Fentress Architects associate principal Corey Ochsner told TPG. Fentress designed both the concourse and terminal.
Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news!
Fully built out or not, the new Concourse D is a big step up for Southwest flyers. The facility is three-times bigger than the concourse it replaces and offers a wider corridor, more seating and higher ceilings than the airport's other gate areas. Other traveler-pleasing amenities include outlets at seats, water bottle filling stations and even a mother's room.
The first departure from the concourse is scheduled as Southwest flight WN2086 to Denver (DEN), due to leave from gate D1 at 6:10 a.m. local time on Friday.
However, the concourse will open with few concessionaires — there is space for at least seven — owning to the coronavirus pandemic. Not to mention far fewer flights and travelers than when it was conceived.
Related: Southwest Airlines inaugurates a new ‘very Portland’ concourse at PDX
The crisis has hit air travel in Nashville hard, as it has the entire industry globally. In April, the airport's traffic numbers fell nearly 96% year-over-year to 62,533 passengers, according to the airport's latest data. Numbers have rebounded since and stand at about 60% of 2019 — or about one million travelers in July — the airport's vice president of communications Tom Jurkovich told TPG.
Crisis or not, Southwest already plans to make use of its new gates. While it will give up four gates on Concourse C with the opening, the airline gains two additional gates for a total of 16. These will be put to good use by the time it flies a nearly full schedule by the end of the year.
“We’re excited about [the] net two new gates that I think we’ll need looking at our November and December schedules," said Southwest vice president of real estate Paul Cullen told TPG.
Related: Southwest adds 11 new routes, plans to resume a nearly full schedule by year-end
Southwest is scheduled to operate up to 135 daily departures from Nashville in December, according to Cirium data. This compares to up to 111 daily departures in December 2019, though that could still change depending on the direction of the recovery.
The airline will also add new service between Nashville and California's Orange Country (SNA) in November. However, routes to Buffalo (BUF), Cancun (CUN) and Omaha (OMA) are not scheduled to return.
Prior to the pandemic, Nashville airport was on a growth tear. It saw passenger numbers jump 14% year-over-year to 18.4 million in 2019. This growth included the addition of Spirit Airlines to its airline roster last year. At the same time, Allegiant Air and Delta Air Lines both unveiled plans for a more substantive operation with the former planning a base and the latter a "focus city" with an expanded Sky Club.
However, Southwest is firmly ensconced as the airport's largest carrying more than 53% of Nashville's travelers in 2019, Bureau of Transportation Statistics data via Cirium shows.
Related: State-by-state guide to coronavirus reopening
Concourse D is only one piece of the larger BNA Vision works. The four gates that Southwest gives up on Concourse C will go to other airlines and allow the airport to close facilities elsewhere to move work on the terminal forward. The terminal is scheduled to open in 2023 with funding that was set aside prior to COVID-19.
"Work in some areas has actually accelerated due to lower passenger volume and fewer related disruptions," said Jurkovich. "We have taken advantage of that while we can."
Other airports are doing the same. Delta is using the slowdown in flyer numbers to accelerate terminal works at Los Angeles (LAX), New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Salt Lake City (SLC). And Ronald Reagan Washington National airport may be able to shave enough time off construction of two new security checkpoints to open them on-time in 2021 rather than six months late.
Related: Delta speeds up LAX, Salt Lake City renovation projects during pandemic
The concourse opening in Nashville follows a similar unveiling at Portland International Airport (PDX) in Oregon on July 15. Southwest moved into a six-gate extension of Concourse E at the airport as part of an effort to balance passenger numbers between the north and south sides of its terminal complex.
Nashville's new Concourse D replaces former regional gates that are no longer needed. The original facility opened in 1987 for American Airlines' hub at the airport that closed in 1995.
Related: Here are 5 airports designed by Black architects that you should know