Dallas Fort Worth International Airport wants to make sure travelers don’t wind up lost.

And so, DFW is using its mobile app to help visitors navigate around the airport. It makes sense. The airport is massive and sprawling. It is larger than Manhattan if you factor in the parking facilities, the airport says. 64 million travelers pass through the Dallas Fort Worth airport each year, and 90% of them are armed with their trusty smartphones, says Sean Donohue, chief executive officer of DFW Airport.

Late last month, DFW launched an Apple Watch version of its iPhone app and added several languages to its Android and iOS smartphone apps including: English, Korean, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. The airport launched an Apple Watch app to aid travelers in navigating the sometimes intimidating airport, says Steve Shaffer, DFW airport’s chief information officer and senior vice president of information and technology services. DFW airport added an indoor navigation feature to its smartphone apps in November 2015 and DFW thought this would be a helpful feature to have on a smartwatch as well, Shaffer says.

“If you see people in the terminal using our wayfinding app, they’re usually walking with their face down in their phone,” Shaffer says. “The watch is perfect for a better user experience. If you are using wayfinding on your watch, you can quick glance down for which way to go.”

Instead of using beacons for wayfinding—which are a popular device choice for large indoor complexes, such as airports, hospitals and universities—DFW chose to use Wi-Fi for navigation and indoor laser scanning for mapping, Shaffer says. If Shaffer were to use beacons—small sensors that detect a smartphone’s location via Bluetooth—for navigation he would need to deploy 10,000 beacons to get the kind of accuracy he wants, he says.


DFW used indoor navigation technology firm LocusLabs Inc. for the indoor laser scanning mapping. Here’s how laser scanning works: the LocusLabs employees will walk the terminals with a device, which looks like a baby carriage, that scans and takes pictures of just about everything, Shaffer says. The result is a robust indoor map that records and photographs all of the airport’s gates, restaurants, shops, luggage cart station, restrooms, security checkpoints and vending machines. LocusLabs inputs all of the mapping data into the app. LocusLabs scans the terminals every 30 days because of the high turnover rate of the airport’s 250 businesses, Shaffer says.

When a traveler pulls up the map in the app, she can then search for locations, such as “Gate B,” or “bathroom,” and the nearest bathroom or correct gate will show up on a virtual airport map in the app. The map will show where the traveler is and where her destination is, but turn-by-turn direction won’t be available until the next app release, Shaffer says. Currently, the airport uses its network of 917 Wi-Fi access points to determine a traveler’s location in the app, but that blue You-Are-Here-dot is not hyper-accurate, he says. The dot could be anywhere from 10 to 15 meters off, Shaffer says.

For the next release of the app, the airport is part of a test group with Apple Inc. called the Apple Indoor Position Program. The program is working to get that well-known blue dot hyper accurate, or within one meter of accuracy, Shaffer says. To achieve that goal, DFW will also add another antenna, called a HaLow, to each Wi-Fi point. Once this system is developed, consumers will be able to access turn-by-turn navigation, Shaffer says.

Since the November app update that added the indoor navigation to the smartphone apps, maps are the second most used feature in the app, Shaffer says. Flight information is the most popular feature in the app, and is used twice as much as the map feature, he says. Looking up points of interest and parking are the next two most used features after maps.

The DFW smartphone phone apps have amassed 185,000 downloads since their launch in 2012, 75% of which are on Apple devices, Shaffer says.


DFW hired mobile technology firm M2mobi to help it add airport map functionality, which took six months to deploy. DFW also used M2mobi for its Apple Watch app which took three months to develop. DFW airport invested $500,000 in the Apple Watch app, the app update that added mapping and the indoor wayfinding.

DFW is marketing the app for both travelers who frequently fly out of DFW and for non-frequent DFW flyers that may have time to kill or need help getting around. DFW is letting travelers know about the app via its website, signs in the airport and the airport’s 800 volunteers who roam the airport giving travels directions.

Down the road, Shaffer hopes to add more personalization to DFW’s mobile apps so the airport can “choreograph” a traveler’s visit. For example, if the app knows the traveler has a flight later that day and there is a bad storm in the area delaying flights, the app would send out a push notification informing the consumer about the delay specific to her flight.  DFW only sends general push notification to all app sues who have opened in the receive them, Another feature on the horizon is  for the app to send out a voucher for a free valet in the parking area if the app knows the traveler is running late for his flight. If the DFW app had more personalization like this, DFW could better compete with airline apps, Shaffer says.

“If I can choreograph 15% of those airport experiences, give you one or two custom pushes, that’s success to me,” Shaffer says.

However, adding the aforementioned personalization features will require the DFW app to have some sort of account login and sign-up process, Shaffer says. Other future app updates will include ordering food for the airport’s vendors, such as Fuddruckers Hamburgers, in the app and the ability to pay for parking in the app.