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DFW, Love Field get makeovers in time for end of Wright Amendment

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Dallas Love Field have spent several years and millions of dollars getting gussied up for Oct. 13.

When the Wright Amendment flight restrictions are lifted next week at Dallas Love Field, travelers will be able to board long-haul flights out of a brand new terminal.

And 15 miles away, DFW is overhauling all of its domestic terminals with features including terrazzo floors, windows that admit more natural light and high-end concessionaires.

Both airports have improved the customer experience, adding power ports for passengers to charge phones and laptops in the terminals and changing out restaurants to offer a greater variety of food and beverages.

The changes aren’t all operational either. A kinetic fine art piece hangs in the new baggage claim area at Love Field while DFW Airport offers comfort zones where passengers can take a nap or get a massage.

“The airport of the future really needs to be more than just a place where you walk off one plane and get on another,” said Byford Treanor, DFW’s vice president of customer service. “You want to enjoy yourself and you want to experience the airport and then be ready to get on the plane to sit for several hours.”

The end of the Wright restrictions at Love Field, which have allowed flights from the Dallas airport only to cities in Texas and nearby states since 1980, was a catalyst for the big improvements. But both facilities were also showing their age.

In Dallas, Love’s primary tenant, Southwest Airlines, agreed that it was time to update the 1950s-era terminal after Dallas, Fort Worth and other major parties, reached the historic agreement in 2006 to open up long-haul domestic fliying out of Love Field.

“With or without the Wright Amendment, the age of Love Field’s terminal facilities meant it was due and we were going to have to do some kind of renovation or remodel,” said Mark Duebner, Dallas’ aviation director, who oversees Love Field. “Old facilities become expensive to maintain, so sometimes you’re better off building new facilities.”

And that’s what Dallas has done, spending about $500 million and issuing bonds backed by Southwest, to build a new 20-gate terminal. The first half of the terminal opened in April 2013, and the remaining gates opened last month. Since the airport only has 7,000 parking spaces in its garage, Duebner said, the city has started planning for a new garage.

Airport workers are still putting the finishing touches on concessions in the new terminal and a new baggage claim area opened a couple of weeks ago. Southwest had already moved all of its operations to the new terminal but Virgin America, which will shift its operations from DFW to Love Field this month, has yet to occupy its new gate and check-in counter.

While DFW’s four original terminals were not as old as Love Field, Terminals A, B, C, and E were starting to show their age, prompting DFW to announce the Terminal Renewal and Improvement Plan in 2010. TRIP, as it’s called by the airport’s staff, is an extensive overhaul of the terminals’ heating, cooling and electrical infrastructure while cosmetically changing the interior of the terminals.

“The TRIP program certainly without a doubt allows us to be more competitive in the local area. But it really is also to modernize the airport to bring it out of the ’70s,” Treanor said.

The program’s budget has swelled to $2.7 billion, and it will not be completed until 2020 since it must be done in stages. The airport cannot shut down an entire terminal at one time for renovations. Two-thirds of Terminal A is expected to be completed by December, and significant portions of Terminal B and Terminal E are already complete.

Creating comforts for customers

For modern airports, it’s all about bringing power to the people.

“Charging is the No. 1 customer issue,” Duebner said. “At the old terminal, any available plug at any available wall had someone sitting near it with their phone plugged in.”

With its new terminal, Love Field purchased chairs that have a power plug and a USB port underneath the seat so travelers can plug in their iPhones or tablets. About 90 percent of the chairs in gate areas have the plugs, Duebner said.

DFW also has charging stations and hopes to have about 30 percent of all gate seats with power access by the time the TRIP program is completed. Treanor added that new concessionaires in the renovated terminals are being asked to provide electric plugs at all of their tables for passengers as part of their lease terms.

Both airports have also upgraded concessions to give travelers choices from a $30 steak dinner to a fast-food hamburger and everything in between. Passengers can dine at Sky Canyon by celebrity chef Stephan Pyles, savor gelato at Paciugo or sip wine at Vino Volo.

“We’re running a 25 percent increase in our concession revenue and that’s just because there are more choices,” Duebner said, noting that Love Field has added more healthy food options.

Concessions revenue has also grown at DFW, partly because the airport allowed concessionaires to individualize their storefronts to make them more inviting to customers, Treanor said. For example, Natalie’s Candy Jar has large plastic lollipops to attract travelers into their stores in Terminals A and D.

DFW has focused its concessions program to include more high-end retailers even in the domestic terminals. Brighton, a high-end seller of women’s handbags and accessories, has a location in the renovated section of Terminal A while Michael Kors and Coach will be going into the international Terminal D.

The airport has also added more premium club space for first class and business class travelers in Terminal D. The American Express Centurion Lounge opened last year with spa services, comfy wing-back chairs, a full-service bar and an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“We’re always rated as the top airport in the U.S. for customer service but as we get all the service to China and the A380s and the service to the Middle East, customers traveling on those airplanes are used to the customer service they receive at international airports,” said DFW Airport Chief Executive Sean Donohue. “We’re raising the bar so that means we have to improve our customer service.”