Austin Airport Is So Overcrowded Passengers Have To Wait Outside In A Tent

Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and has been for several years. Shortly after I came here in 2014, Jon Stewart did his show from the city and sent a reporter to the border cover ‘the immigration problem.’ The Austin border. Man on the street interviews typically elicited comments from residents like, “Austin is nothing like it was when I moved here.. 6 days ago.”

The Austin airport has been fast-growing as well. The main Barbara Jordan terminal opened 37% more gates just two years ago, and that’s not enough. American Airlines isn’t even the largest carrier in the city, yet it has tripled the number of destinations it’s serving in just two years. Southwest is growing, too, and Delta considers Austin a focus city.

In order to keep growing the airport they plan to tear down the low cost carrier terminal to make room for new taxiways, and allow them to build a midfield concourse for the main terminal.

The low cost “South Terminal” opened in 2017 and currently serves Allegiant and Frontier. Spirit Airlines is willing to pay higher rents to keep its passengers out of the glorified doublewide.

With the return to travel, and passenger growth at the airport, the South Terminal is seeing more passengers than ever before and it cannot fit them all. So passengers are being kept outside the terminal in tents. In the Central Texas summer.

This summer, we’re seeing record numbers of passengers, so we’ve added extra room with an air-conditioned tent set up in the VIP parking lot next to the terminal. If the terminal gets crowded, we may ask you to wait outside while we clear space for you.

This is expected only at peak Friday and Monday afternoons “generally around 4 pm” and it’s being called the “FestiveTent” where they promise “plenty of bathrooms, more food, an extra bar and a little bit of fun” instead of a terminal. (Currently food at the South Terminal is primarily provided via a food truck, currently De Nada tacos.)

Passengers relegated to the outside FestiveTent will hear announcements made by “Terminal Ambassadors” when it’s time to board and they’ll “work to get you inside quickly.”

It certainly seems this model of airport expansion would be a lot faster and cheaper than how airports usually do it. In fact it upends the entire FAA approach. Maybe it even calls into question the need for Passenger Facility Charges included in airline tickets altogether.

(HT: @Ryan_Hassett)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Maybe they could make the tent into a big gate 35X, with busses to take people directly to their plane. Than, they wouldn’t even need the terminal building, just keep it all in tents. It would really give it a true low cost carrier feel. Maybe have the passengers pick up their checked luggage airside. Dropping off checked luggage could be curbside only, for an extra fee. This could solve all the issues associated with tearing down the south terminal while they reroute taxiways.

  2. Guess what there Gary, they do this at many major airports around the world….it is nothing new. I once stood out in a tent at O’Hare in sub zero temps for almost an hour and it is one of the largest airports in the world. This is just another of your hack wanna be reporter stories inventing fake outrage where there is none. Grow up and find something more substantial to write about, or just don’t bother.

  3. Missing from this article is a description of just how miserably hot it is in Austin on a summer afternoon, shade or no shade.

  4. Well, it’s been a very mild summer. Great way to enjoy the below normal temps!

  5. I went to Law School in Austin quite awhile ago and, no, Austin is not the same. It’s very different but still very good. For those looking for the Old Austin experience with lower costs, the nearby towns of San Marcos, New Braunfels and others are great places to live with easy access to the Hill Country, Austin and San Antonio (which has a very nice airport).

  6. Yea, but hey are all still in Texas so not really worth the visit unless you are into people with really big egos, hats, and belt buckles….but really small brains.

  7. How the airports “usually do it”…you mean completely ignore the end user (I know we are not their customers) and the physical requirements for smooth and timely operations?

    Yep let’s UPEND that NOW!

  8. @Ryan Waldron

    Austin is the liberal wanderland of Texas. It has all the same crime and homeless you find in California or New York. Just without the human poop like in the utopia San Francisco

  9. Austin is a MESS. The whole city. Choking on traffic so bad the quality of life there has declined. The overall Austin infrastructure is broken.

  10. “American Airlines isn’t even the largest carrier in the city, yet it has tripled the number of destinations it’s serving in just two years. ”

    So if it started with just one flight, and now has three, that would be true.

    Wow! Austin is growing.

  11. THis tent is not unusual in Austin. A trip downtown will show that it is howmost Austin residents live. They moved there from downtown SFO.

  12. The bad traffic in Austin is way over-exaggerated. Houston and Dallas are both way worse.

  13. L3 nailed it! Good one. However, if Austin was any better I couldn’t afford to live there. Hold on . . . I don’t. I did but my taxes and the Austin City Council (with all the direction of a windsock on a light and variable day) forced my move to Hill Country and Lakeway area.
    I moved to Austin when parking was free in front of the old Robert Mueller Airport and there were six gates. It was a pilot’s paradise . . . Fun and cheap.

  14. If the airline recovery and passenger growth continues as it is along with the rapid growth of not only Austin but the rest of central Texas, expect some severe overcrowding at the airport in the coming future. Just looking at the explosive passenger growth along with the number of airlines and destinations says it all. For airlines Austin is one of those few very lucrative growth markets in the country. It has all the right demographics. A fast growing metro, well educated, business/high-tech related, liesure and tourist destination, a large population of college students and affluent seniors in the area. All point to a market of folks that travel more compared to folks in Kansas City. AUS also has a huge service area. Serving passengers stretching from Waco in the north to San Antonio to the south and all that area has some of the largest population growth in the state. If you check out the AUS airport site and read the passenger reports for the last five years just before the pandemic, it shows over a million additional new passengers in EACH year up to 2020. The airport is already quickly approaching 2019 summer levels of passengers before the pandemic. Only thing that is enevitable in the coming years is overcrowding in the terminal. They need to get going on the airport expansion ASAP. Austin and central Texas will not stop growing anytime soon.

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