Austin Airport Plans To Scrap Its Four Year Old Second Terminal

Austin plans to eliminate its nearly new second terminal to make way for growth of the 1999-era main terminal. One of the fastest growing airports in the country for several years running, they’re figuring out how to accommodate the flights passengers want and airlines want to offer. But in the process they risk what makes the airport so attractive to fly out of in the first place.

Austin’s Neglected New “South Terminal”

Austin airport has two terminals, the Barbara Jordan Terminal which is what most people know and the South Terminal which is nearly an 8 mile drive away. All day long passengers go to “the Austin airport” and get dropped off a the Barbara Jordan Terminal. But if they’re flying Frontier or Allegiant they need to wait for a shuttle to take them offsite.

The low cost carrier terminal is less than three quarters of a mile away but there’s no easy way to get there from the main terminal. Spirit Airlines is willing to pay extra so that its passengers can avoid the experience of a double wide trailer with a food truck, currently De Nada Tacos (because there’s limited concessions).

The South Terminal is 30,000 square feet and opened in 2017 at a cost of $12 million. In April Allegiant announced it would open a $75 million base there in the fall. The terminal is managed by a separate private entity. And Austin now plans to eliminate it.

At the South Terminal, this is how they practiced social distancing last year.

What in gods name was going on in the south terminal men’s room before this sign went up? from r/Austin

Apparently the airport thinks male passengers at the South Terminal are the type who need to be told not to eat the big white mint.

The Main Terminal Needs To Grow

Austin announced plans to use the space where the South Terminal stands today as part of relocating the main terminal’s taxiways, which is necessary to get ready to build a midfield concourse and additional gates.

Shortly before the pandemic Austin’s ‘real’ terminal added 37% more gates, but even that isn’t enough. It’s been one of the fastest growing airports in the country. Southwest is the largest carrier, it’s a focus city for Delta, and in just two years American is moving from 8 destinations out of Austin to 34. The airport has even become a connecting hub for American.

They’ll close the South Terminal in the next two years as part of their plan to build a midfield concourse with at least 10 more gates, connected to the Barbara Jordan Terminal via underground tunnel. This requires relocating the terminal’s taxiways, and using space currently occupied by the low cost terminal. They’ll also introduce a $77 million baggage system and new ticket counters.

Frontier and Allegiant will be moved into the main terminal, which will be busting at the seams until work is completed (they’ll presumably get grandfathered lower rates.)

Risking What’s Special About The Airport Today

When you pull up to the Austin airport, security is right at the door. And once you’re through security you’re immediately at the gates. The Barbara Jordan Terminal is basically a long corridor with check-in desks and security landside and gates and most concessions airside. The airport is easy in-and-out. And it’s right off the freeway, to boot.

Renting a car? You walk across the parking garage structure to get there. (It used to be even easier – with rental cars directly across the street from the terminal.)

When airports grow, they tend to centralize functions like security and move gates farther away. It’s a planner’s dream but undermines the utility of the airport, the purpose of which is to get somewhere quickly.

The very best airports are close to the population center, easy to get to and just as importantly easy to get through. By the time the airport builds its 2040 plan it won’t look much like it does today.

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. If you are lucky, they might put some neon lights in the ceiling like at O:Hare’s United Terminal

  2. I used to live in Austin. It is a great airport (parking). But try to find a seat at a bar on Monday afternoon.

  3. AUS is a great airport, and the AAngels are the BEST in the entire system. I hope they can balance growth and convenience.

  4. @Gary,

    I wonder if RDU could be a similar story for AA. RDU is to CLT what AUS is to DFW? Decent amount of originating traffic with some connections. Any reason why it couldn’t?

  5. For my 2 cents, every federal dollar that has funded the satellite terminal must be reimbursed before funding any expansion at AUS.

    We cannot allow the U.S. dollar to be disregarded as the American Peso.

  6. @robertw

    MSP’s two terminals are about that far apart using public roads. It is not a big deal since passengers are not connecting between the two.

    As for AUS losing its character -one cannot have an airport with robust schedules to many destinations that is compact and convenient. It is not possible. You have to choose one or the other.

  7. DFW has rail connections to both Dallas and Fort Worth, but Austin’s unfortunately missing rail service.

  8. I’ve always like AUS for its convenience, good local food and relative lack of crowding. Sounds like moving the Allegiant and Frontier flights might impact the latter. (I have never actually been to the South Terminal.) But you can’t expect a small airport like that to continue to work as the area grows so much. It hasn’t even been that long since they started to have TATL flights.

  9. Any link to anything related to PremEx is worth the click, even if inspired by me…

  10. @Monte, since the South Terminal is a private enterprise, no federal money was used on it. All the PFC charges went to the BJT, not South Terminal. The building is a renovated Air Force structure owned by the City. The land is owned by the City. Nothing Federal is involved down there.

    @Christian, Cap Metro is planning to have a light rail station running to the airport, dropping off somewhere by the parking garage and rental car facility.

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