Dallas/Fort Worth Airport officials say they’re making progress on fixing problems with a new automated parking system that have caused sporadic delays for drivers exiting the airport in recent weeks.“I’m not saying we’ve solved all the problems, but I’m saying it’s gotten better and the average wait times have gotten better,” DFW Chief Financial Officer Chris Poinsatte told the airport board during committee meetings Tuesday. “We have turned a corner.”Airport officials acknowledged that the rollout of the system, which launched two months ago, has not been smooth. But they told board members that software fixes and server reconfigurations have helped mitigate problems with a system that has failed to read TollTags correctly.Since the fixes were installed Oct. 26, the longest waits at the entrance and exit plazas have been around three minutes, Poinsatte said. The airport is also making progress toward demolishing old entry plazas, which obstruct electronic signs on the new plazas that tell drivers which lanes are open.Sean Donohue, who had to deal with traffic jams and other system-related problems during his first week as the airport’s chief executive, said the problems must be fixed soon.“We have to get this right for the holidays,” he said.Poinsatte said most of the old booths will be torn down by Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel weekends. Demolition of remaining columns, as well as road construction and striping of entry lanes, will be completed by Christmas. When the work is finished, customers will have access to 60 lanes instead of the current 42.The airport’s customer call center continues to receive at least 100 calls a day related to parking system problems, Poinsatte said. Calls spiked during the last week of October when the system failed to read TollTags at the north entrance, causing an hourlong traffic jam.When the system was launched in September, it incorrectly charged some drivers because readers didn’t recognize when a car with a TollTag had left the airport. When drivers returned on a different visit, the system charged them as if they had been parked at the airport the entire time.It has also overcharged valet customers because a reader didn’t register that the parking fee had already been paid to valet workers. At the board’s October meeting, Poinsatte said the airport had issued $77,000 in refunds to 1,300 customers. Airport staffers also addressed long waits in the customs area as DFW launched an automated passport control entry program in mid-October.The kiosks will reduce waits by allowing U.S. passengers to enter their answers to customs questions before reaching an agent.“Average wait time for U.S. citizens dropped from 18 to 13 minutes,” said Byford Treanor, the airport’s vice president of customer service. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s huge.”During the airport’s busy summer travel season, waits in customs sometimes topped three hours. Treanor said the new kiosks will help the airport move more international passengers quickly through customs. The airport has also received approval from the federal government to pay overtime to customs agents to increase staffing.With an 11 percent increase in international passengers and airlines adding international destinations at DFW, Treanor said, the airport expects to handle 13,000 to 14,000 international passengers a day, up from 12,000 in 2013.Separately, the board was briefed on DFW’s fiscal year, which ended Oct. 1. The airport served 60.3 million passengers in fiscal 2013, the most since 2006. It also generated $96.6 million from parking, concessions and other nonairline revenue. The airport’s use agreements with its airlines provide for excess revenue to be used to lower landing fees or other airline costs, so DFW will pay $8.7 million to its tenant airlines in January.
Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631 Twitter: @Sky_Talk