(Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs/Flickr)
In Yahoo Travel’s Airport Review series, we dissect everything you need to know — from check-in to takeoff to landing.
Airport Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. They say that everything is bigger in Texas. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is larger than the entire island of Manhattan and even has its own zip code. Based upon landing aircraft, it is the third-busiest airport in the world. But with its speedy Skylink transportation system and Texan flair from retail and dining outlets, it is easier to navigate than it may first appear.
You could fit the entire island of Manhattan in this space (Photo: Wikicommons)
The Good: DFW is positioned in the middle of the country, allowing it to offer flights to all corners and all inhabited continents with more than 200 destinations in all. Its five semicircular terminals were designed to allow ease of access for arriving passengers and reduce car traffic in front of the terminals. Baggage claim is typically just a few steps from the flights’ arrival gates, as exits are located throughout the semicircular terminals.
The airport is located near the charming town of Grapevine, which operates an hourly shuttle from Terminal D to its downtown. The bus fills up quickly with people on long layovers. A favorite of international travelers is Grapevine’s Target, and it is not uncommon to see people strolling the aisles there with carry-on luggage in tow.
Even with the Skylink trains be prepared to walk (Photo: Roland Tangalo/Flickr)
The Bad: The semicircular terminals have two stations for the Skylink trains, but gates can still be a long walk away. If connecting from the end of one terminal to the end of another, it can take at least 15 minutes or more to go from gate to gate (and that’s if the train is waiting for you when you climb the escalator to the station).
(Photo: Misty McGoo/Flickr)
Walkability: The airport’s layout is tough on close connections. There are very few moving walkways and crowds can often form around boarding gates, hindering passage for those trying to navigate narrow spaces. Even with the train as an option, travelers certainly get their exercise. For those who want other kinds of exercise, DFW has a yoga studio and walking path (which is marked with floor art) in Terminal D.
Security and Immigration: Security checkpoints are spread out along the terminals, providing plenty of entrance options for passengers. TSA lines include the PreCheck option at almost all checkpoints, and over 50 new automated kiosks at immigration help to speed up the process for those who do not hold Global Entry status. A fast-track lane in the customs area speeds up the exit for those traveling only with carry-on baggage. All of the terminals are connected airside, so there is no need to go through security again when changing terminals on a connection (unless you’re arriving from an international flight).
Delays: DFW does well with delays, as it has ample tarmac space and seven runways to cater to excessive traffic. Spring and summer afternoon thunderstorms are the airport’s biggest headache, but operations are able to autocorrect themselves overnight once storms have moved through the area. This is the largest hub for the world’s largest airline, American Airlines, so the carrier has plenty of planes on standby that can be towed from nearby hangars if needed.
Public Spaces: Visitors to the airport do not have much space to gather if they are not flying. However, a popular landmark is Founders’ Plaza, located on the outskirts of the airport grounds in Grapevine. It offers a viewing platform from which photographers and aviation spotters can enjoy planes taking off and landing. An audio broadcast of the control tower provides background on the airport’s activity.
Plugs/Charging Outlets: The airport does well in this regard. Between the seating area outlets and dedicated charging stations, DFW offers numerous places for travelers to connect their devices.
Transportation: Taxis, which cost about $50, are your best bet for transportation to downtown Dallas or Fort Worth — that is, until the new Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) train begins from Terminal A directly into Dallas this month (SEE VIDEO BELOW):
There is also the popular Grapevine Visitor’s Shuttle, which not only takes travelers on long layovers to shopping and dining but also makes stops at Grapevine-area hotels.
Hotel: There is no hotel inside security, but the Grand Hyatt is perched atop Terminal D, offering stunning views of the airport’s runway and tarmac movements. Travelers can easily walk to the hotel without ever having to step outside. The Hyatt Regency is also located on the airport grounds, but it requires a shuttle to reach its front door. Quick naps are a cinch in the Minute Suites facility, which rents sleeping rooms by the hour in Terminal D.
The Grand Hyatt at DFW (Photo: Getty Images)
Food: There is something for everyone at DFW, which is becoming even more important now that the passenger mix is diversifying. Flights to Australia, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and South America have intertwined schedules, leading to a constant demand for various cuisines. There is fresh sushi, plentiful Tex-Mex, Texas barbecue (of course), and even Irish and Belgian beer pubs. No one can claim to go hungry.
Dallas Fort Worth Airport has something for everyone (Photo: Trevor Haldenby/Flickr)
Terminal A: This is exclusively American Airlines territory, but it has numerous options to entertain travelers during their time at DFW. The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que is a must-visit for barbecue lovers, as it slow-roasts its own local meat. Artisanal bakery Icebox Cafe brings homemade recipes to the airport. Terminal A is the first of the airport’s original terminals to complete its renovation projects, which will relieve headaches faster for one of the airport’s busiest terminals.
Texas-style BBQ from Cousin’s (Photo: Kirk K./Flickr)
Terminal B: This is the primary home of all American Eagle flights, so almost all planes are 50-seat regional jets. Small planes, unfortunately, seem to equate to smaller choices. Texas barbecue fans will find Cousin’s Bar-B-Q for beef brisket and sausage along with local pinto beans and coleslaw. Other choices include Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut, and Baskin-Robbins.
Terminal C: Like other airport terminals, this American Airlines hot spot has its own barbecue spot: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. Don’t ask which one is best; every traveler seems to have a favorite! Smoothie lovers will have to duke it out between Freshens and Smoothie King, both in this building.
Terminal D: Wrapped in glass and topped with high ceilings, this is the airport’s most attractive space and offers some of the most innovative dining and shopping options. Reata Grill is one of the most notable, as it focuses on distinctive Texas cuisine serving everything from barbecue to local Lubbock and Grapevine wines. Other fine dining locations in Terminal D include local favorite III Forks (“three forks”) and chef Stephan Pyles’s newest, Sky Canyon. There are also two barbecue restaurants and two pubs to choose from, both popular destinations for international travelers in this modern, new complex. It is also home to the second of American Express's Centurion Lounges, which are winning national acclaim for their celebrity chef-designed buffets, open bars, and complimentary spa and beauty treatments. Several gates are soon to be reconfigured to accommodate Emirates and Qantas Airbus A380s.
Terminal E: Most domestic carriers operate from this terminal. A second Texas Dickey’s barbecue outlet operates here (this completes the quintet of terminals with barbecue cafes), and the Mexican-fare Tequileria does plenty of business during daylight hours here.
Shopping: Anyone with a long connection might want to head for the Grapevine Visitor’s Shuttle to shop in that nearby town. But if you prefer to stay in the airport, there is a variety of brand-name stores to explore. Shoppers should peruse the numerous Texas-focused outlets sprinkled throughout the airport, which sell everything from leather to whiskey. Locally crafted goodies such as cowboy hats from Fort Worth and hand-blown glass from Grapevine are especially popular.
In Short: DFW may be massive, but its terminals are easy to navigate and packed with surprisingly unique stores and eateries at every turn. With so many flights and growing interest from many airlines, if you have not already passed through DFW, there is a very pleasant visit somewhere in your future.
Ramsey Qubein flies nearly 350,000 miles per year and is a regular contributor to BBC Worldwide and Business Traveler, covering hotels, airports, airlines, and loyalty programs. Follow him on Twitter @DailyTravelTips.