Executives with DFW International Airport Thursday hosted the official unveiling of a brighter, more techno-friendly Terminal A, marking the first completed portion of a $2.7 billion airport upgrade.

The effort is designed to make the airport more appealing not only to North Texas residents but also to Asian and European travelers who can choose among stop-over hubs such as Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco and other major airports.

The Terminal A project, which has been revealed to the traveling public in pieces over the past 18 months, cost $1 billion and is the largest portion of the upgrade.

The total project, called Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program or TRIP, is expected to be complete in about a year.

“This really is a milestone event for DFW,” said Sean Donohue, chief executive of the airport, as American Airlines workers heaved bags onto conveyor belts in the remodeled check-in area.

“It’s a total experience. You start in the garage, [with] the parking guidance system. We probably get more positive feedback from that technology than almost any other technology improvement we’ve made,” he said of the computer assisted parking program.

“We’ve got a brand new security checkpoint,” he added. “We’ve got brand new restaurants, we’ve got brand new retail.”

He said consumer ratings of the renovated space “can be almost 20 percent higher than what they were three years ago.”

Nearly all of the upgrades in the program are paid for by the airlines.

So American, the only carrier in Terminal A, will pay the lion’s share of the cost of those improvements, many of which are designed to make traveling a bit less taxing.

There are more outlets for charging the myriad electronic devices consumers carry, more kiosks for self check-in, larger baggage claim areas with digital signage, and four new high-capacity elevators to move between floors.

Where possible, ceilings in the 1-million-square foot terminal were raised by 5 feet to make the space feel more airy. Some exterior walls were replaced with windows to bring in more natural light.

The number of TSA checkpoints also grew to four from three and each one was expanded to improve the passenger waiting queue.

Some aspects of the upgrade have only been visible to the public for a few weeks, including the completed remodel of the gate area from 36 to 39.

Airport users already are familiar with the parking guidance system, which uses lights above each parking place and centralized scoreboards to tell drivers where there is an empty space.

The complete rebuild of the Terminal A garage is largely why the Terminal A project was more expensive than other parts of the project. In Terminal B, there was no change to the garage and in Terminal E one section was upgraded.

Donohue said the airport, which hosted 65 million travelers last year, is in discussions with airlines about what will happen with Terminal C. “We have nothing to announce,” he added.
It’s fate apparently is linked to discussions about a possible additional terminal.

Terminal C was included in the original $2.7 billion budget.

Once past the TSA checkpoint in Terminal A, consumers will find updated dining and shopping options.

In January 2011, when work began, Terminal A had allotted 53,526 square feet of space for concessions. As of earlier this month, the space had grown to 82,222 square feet, a gain of about 55 percent.

Concepts added last year included Lorena Garcia Tapas y Cocina, where traveler Lester Tran stopped to grab a bite before catching a flight to Orlando midday Thursday.

“It’s a fresher, brighter look with more relevant stores and restaurants,” said Tran, who travels every other week for business. “There’s a greater variety that appeals to different customer. It’s diverse.

“Take tapas,” he added. “You wouldn’t have seen that three years ago.”

The increased focus on a variety of ethnic foods is part of the airport’s broader overall aim to boost the number of travelers who come from outside of the U.S.

“Take a look at people who maybe want to fly from Asia to South America,” Donohue said. “You can’t fly non-stop. You have to connect somewhere. You can connect in Vancouver, you can connect in San Francisco or L.A. or DFW. We look at it globally.

“Today we’re the No. 1 connecting hub with traffic going between Asia and South America. We want to grow that share even more.”

Presented by the Dallas Morning News

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