Des Moines Airport Construction Updates

Iowa’s largest airport, the Des Moines International Airport (DSM) has been planning construction changes for years, but those changes are now in motion and visible from the street. Kevin Foley, Executive Director, explains what the new large concrete structure is, why the entrance has changed, outlines Phase 2 plans, and puts to rest the jokes about the airport’s name. He also tells why his wife was flagged by security for something in her bag! 

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Des Moines Airport Construction Entrance Video Tour

Frequent travelers may have noticed the main entrance of the Des Moines Airport has completely changed location. The new main entrance has moved a few hundred yards south and is now combined with what used to be the exit.

In the video tour below, you can see the location of the former entrance is completely gone and in it’s place is landscaping and a bridge that is part of the larger plan to be completed later.

Construction progress and new entrance at Des Moines International Airport.

New Des Moines Airport entrance

Headshot of Kevin Foley, executive director of the Des Moines International Airport standing in the terminal.
Kevin Foley, Executive Director. Des Moines International Airport

The Des Moines Airport changed its entrance because they were having frequent traffic issues backing up Fleur. “As soon as you got on the airport property, you had to start making decisions. There was a turn to the right and a parking lot over there—it was an employee parking lot—but that was also the entrance to Signature flight support, one of the general aviation facilities.” Foley said. Beyond this point, there were even more decisions for parking, shuttle pull-offs, and visitor drop-off locations.

Frequent travelers weren’t bothered by the old “exit ramp” style entrance, but it was confusing for other travelers. “We pull from a much larger distance than what we used to. We pull passengers from two and two and a half hours away who maybe only fly once a year, or twice a year, and they’re not familiar with the airport and that immediate decision-making. They would literally stop to try to figure out where is it that I want to go?” Foley said. “This new entrance allows us to spread out the decisions necessary, lessening potential backups on Fleur.

Phase 1 and 2 of Des Moines Airport

Phase 1 with the new entrance is now complete, and the visible construction is the beginning of Phase 2. Currently, the large structure you see from Fleur is a retaining wall for a new road. A pull-off road will go underneath a small tunnel, which you can begin to see. This will wrap up next summer, 2024.

1100 spaces will be added next year, and by 2028 the Des Moines International Airport will have a whole new terminal—the old one will be going away. Foley did explain the Des Moines Airport Renovation will take some time, but will be well worth it.

Des Moines Airport Entrance and Construction Gallery

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Does The Des Moines Airport have international flights?

Iowans often chuckle when talking about why the word International appears in the Des Moines International Airport, but believe it or not, it’s a deserving term.

The Des Moines Airport actually receives 300 or more international flights per year. None are commercial, they’re all general aviation from companies like Vermeer, Principal Financial Group, Corteva, and others. These travelers often fly from Europe, South America, and other countries. Iowa actually has two US Customs Agents that work out of DSM. These agents also handle VISA applications and issues, and global entry interviews.

Has the Des Moines Airport returned to pre-pandemic levels?

In the last half of 2022, the Des Moines airport has exceeded 2019 travel levels, but Foley said it’s actually difficult to understand how much of this is business travel simply because travel patterns have changed. Today, we see people in jeans and t-shirts, whereas we used to see people in business attire. He credits the new “bleisure” trend for the rise, alongside the new increases in business travel.

What is bleisure?

Bleisure is when travelers combine business travel with leisure travel. “It’s very very common today, and not just here in Des Moines,” Foley told me. “We went for two and a half years of being shut down, being cooped up, afraid to travel, afraid to go out of our houses, working from home, and this pent-up demand is still there.” He said this has led to incredible rates of travel. People love travel and experiences.

Business travel has obviously recovered as well. Most people predicting the death of business travel completely misunderstood the culture around business travel, as demonstrated quite well by George Clooney in Up In The Air. Much of what that film captures is quite accurate.

Des Moines International Airport Volume

DSM used to be mildly irritating. Iowans would drive to Omaha, Minneapolis, or Kansas City for cheaper fairs and more direct flights. But things have changed. More airlines do business in Iowa, and we have more direct flights to major cities than ever before.

Foley explains that schedules are also changing significantly. Carriers used to focus primarily on business destinations, but there is greater demand for vacation destinations these days. For those asking about the direct to Salt Lake City, he said it will come back soon.

Foley also addressed the pilot shortage’s impact on Iowa. The airlines are starting to combine smaller planes, like the CRJ-500 and 700 aircraft, into larger Boeing 737s coming into Des Moines to address the pilot shortage. This is why you’re seeing fewer time options when leaving DSM.

Savvy travelers may have noticed larger planes are more common coming into Des Moines International. To see all direct flights from DSM, go here.

How early should I arrive at the Des Moines Airport?

How far ahead should you arrive for your flight at the Des Moines Airport? You should arrive at the front door of The Des Moines International Airport one hour before your flight departure time. To be clear, this means you’re already parked and ready with your bags.

If you need to find a parking spot, need to check special luggage, have items that will require extra screening, or have yet to purchase tickets, you may want to arrive an hour and a half or even 1.5 or 2 hours early.

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