When DFW International Airport announced it would add a $3.1 billion sixth terminal in May, CEO Sean Donohue explained the addition as a necessity to continue capturing the region’s booming growth. North Texas will be bigger than Chicago by the end of the decade, according to reports of his announcement at the Hyatt Regency DFW.
I heard him. (Well, I read him.) But I wondered anyway whether our growing penchant for international travel had much to do with it. Somewhere, someone had looked at the way young people are jet-setting, ran the numbers, and determined that although this many people are already traveling internationally, this many more people will be doing so in a decade, and just wait until Gen Z graduates college, and so forth. I wondered what the new Terminal F would mean for the future of international travel in North Texas.
So, I pulled together some statistics and gave him a call. I learned that American Airlines, which flew to 48 international destinations a decade ago, now travels to 86. Donohue told me that DFW Airport has doubled its international service since 2010. In the last five years, he said, the airport has focused on adding destinations in two specific continents: “We’ve always been strong out of DFW to South America. And that continues to be a strength. But we knew we had to get bigger to Asia and Europe.”
Some of that growth has been driven by the relocations that have defined our corporate business environment over the last five years. Donohue doesn’t believe Japan Airlines would have come to DFW had Toyota not moved to the area. Same thing for the recent American Airlines addition of a stop at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. “It’s a bit of a circle, though,” Donohue says. “The fact that our international profile has grown so dramatically, I also think, is an appeal to corporations as they’re looking to make a decision to move to DFW or Charlotte or something like that.”
When it comes to what spurred Terminal F, Donohue says it’s as simple as supply and demand, and the need to stay ahead of the growth curve, so as to not constrain the area. “It’s not speculative,” he says. “It’s really driven by the analytics and the data.”
So, what does that data say about international travel? I say that millennials seem to want to leave the country. He responds that it’s not just millennials. Donohue is 58. When he retires, data tells him, he’ll do some traveling. (Baby boomers like Donohue have the most disposable income of any generation.) “Right now, global travel is doubling every 15 to 20 years,” he says. That would put us at 8 billion trips in 2035. “That’s why our long-term focus is absolutely critical.”
Donohue says that the new Terminal F will be intentionally built for flexibility, so the airport can use more gates for international travel during the summer and fewer during the winter, when domestic is a greater emphasis. He won’t estimate a breakdown of how many of the 24 gates will be allocated for international travel at any given time. Through a spokesperson, American Airlines adds that although it expects to add a few more international departures over the next year or two, it’s too early to make specific plans for the new terminal.
Regardless of just how many more flights pop up, DFW’s standing as an international hub will only grow. And that’s a good thing for all ages.