Washington National Airport is Building an Entire New Concourse to Solve the Hell of Just One Gate

Arguably the worst place in any US airport is Washington National’s Gate 35X. I’ve said that the previous administration could have closed the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and just moved terrorism suspects to this gate.

35X is a waiting area before you head down an escalator to one of several bus gates.

The plan is to replace gate 35X with a new $400 million commuter terminal that’s part of a billion dollar renovation which includes moving out the security perimeter of the airport, bringing all of the current concourses and retail inside security.

The video claims that the new replacement for gate 35X builds on “Washington National’s tradition of spacious and passenger-friendly ambiances…”

I’d make two points. First, here’s official confirmation of my position that the correct name for the airport is ‘Washington National’ and not ‘Reagan Airport’ or ‘Reagan National’.

And second that the people who market these things don’t actually have any idea what it’s like as a passenger (largely because for airports passengers are the product, not the customer). Here’s the ‘spacious and passenger-friendly ambiance’ of Washington National:

There’s not enough room at the gates. There’s not enough seating. And what space there used to be has been taken by expanded retail. The new commuter terminal means more retail still, of course.

For all of our seatmate’s sake, let’s just hope they don’t open a second Ben’s Chili Bowl at the airport.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Your “National Airport” point is so silly. Like getting into a fight over saying JFK vs. saying Kennedy when referring to NY’s airport. Who cares? You’re older, so you use the older name. Younger people use the newer name. Whoopdee do.

  2. @James K
    I think his point is that they don’t actually know the name of the airport. The URL is ‘flyreagan.com’ and the giant image they use is Reagan National.

    Basically, I think he’s pointing out that they’re confused because they’re shit at marketing.

  3. Gary, to your point, I think the “open, airy spaces” are all pre-security while post-security is a post-merger, post-additional retail nightmare. The Post did a survey about two years ago about what locals call it — as a lifetime(ish) local, it’s only National or DCA to me and I’m in pretty good company.

    Here’s the survey result: https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/express/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/040115_EXP0074.jpg&w=1484

  4. @Sam

    I’ve been reading Gary for a while. Every year or so he makes a claim that National Airport is the only correct name.


    You are absolutely right, that’s a better parallel

  5. The end of the video makes it very clear that it is Ronald Reagan National Airport. It is spoken and the logo is presented.

  6. The real story here is not gate 35X or Gary’s preferred name for the airport. Once the security expansion is complete we can access the AA, United and Delta lounges when departing on any airline in B/C without reclearing security.

  7. Let me tell you a story about 35X. I was booked on an AA flight to Nashville and the gate area was PACKED. Like to the breaking point. They finally called off a few flights for boarding, including mine, and I raced out to the bus, couldn’t get out of that hellhole fast enough. The bus was packed too, and when I boarded the plane some dude was in my seat! The flight attendant said we were behind schedule so just take an empty seat towards the back (there were 3 or 4). Ok, no big deal. The next thing I know we land at White Plains! That’s in NY, by the way, not TN. I tried to get AA to send me to TN, or at least back to Reagan National, and the customer service rep refused. Had to buy a new flight (on United via ORD).

  8. I’m not sure many of us care as deeply about calling it Reagan National or Washington National, etc. I always thought it was Reagan National and the old name was Washington National. Wikipedia has it as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Call it what you like unless you avoid calling it “Reagan” because you feel it makes you better person because you’re a “Reagan” hater. In that case don’t be so bitter.
    The real issue in airport names for me is ATL. I will never call it Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It will always just be Atlanta or ATL. Maybe they need a new nickname like HartJax or something stupid 🙂

  9. Of course, locals only refer to it by one of two names, either just Reagan or just National. That’s it. So Gary, does it really matter what’s ‘Official’?

  10. It’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport but saying “National” or “Reagan” is interchangeable IMO. You describe other airports with names like Bush Intercontinental, O;Hare, LaGuardia, Logan, McCarran, John Wayne, Louis Armstrong, Love Field…Plus, you typically don’t refer to an airport because they only serve ‘national’ US destinations and no international destinations.

  11. When 11,000+ federal workers go knowingly on an illegal strike and the president fires them that takes guts and he most definitely deserves to have the capital airport named after him.
    I live in DC for 20+ years and I always call it Reagan.

  12. People can call it whatever they want, however there’s an unusually large # of people to call it “National’ just to prove how “DC insider” they are and for no other reason. These people are terrible.

  13. Reagan is a dead President. I could find stuff from Andrew Jackson’s time in Tennessee and while I think he was a despicable person, that doesn’t mean I am clamoring for his memory to be purged from that state. My advice is to let it go.

  14. On another note, airports in the US have to cater to airlines or get dehubbed like a lot of the Midwestern airports have had to deal with. I hate it but that’s the nature of the beast. Look at Indianapolis. That’s an amazing airport with a great customer experience. Hardly anyone flies it. No hub there means it gets less than high traffic.

  15. A couple of comments have beaten around this, but just to be explicit: Gary, to your point about overcrowding, this project will definitely help alleviate that by bringing security up to the current ticketing level. Thus the whole main concourse – which is usually dead empty, as a passengers hurry through security and then wait – will be open for airside pax. So we can hang out there with a 2-minute walk down the pier to the gate rather than having to be packed into the gate areas. And, as someone noted, lounge-hopping will be feasible.

  16. 1. I remember when B/C first opened – one of my kids wanted to visit it and have lunch. It is a beautiful airport, but suffers from being designed before the 9/11 security procedures resulted in it (as with other airports) being chopped into separate sets of gates that are practically impossible to move between. This renovation promises to move security forward to where you can walk all around, as it was originally designed. I think that is a good thing.

    2. It will be nice to have access to multiple lounges, though this ain’t Dulles – these are nice but similar domestic lounges with limited food and beverage. (Or might we get a Centurion in the renovation?)

    3. I have seen people bolt off of those commuter planes at the last minute when they hear the announcement and realize they are on the wrong one, which is easy to do. (That got me to always say something to the FA as I board to make sure I am not one of them.)

    4. They have definitely improved the restaurants at Reagan in recent years. Ben’s is more reputation than food, but it is okay and I have had far worse burgers in other airports, I assure you.

    5. People in DC call it Reagan or National interchangeably, sometimes in the same sentence. It is national since there are no international flights, which are only out of Dulles or BWI (which almost no one calls Thurgood Marshall, I think). I think it is funny to sometimes see some small town call its airport an “international” airport because they have one flight to Mexico or Canada.

  17. I don’t know anyone who has lived in DC for more than 25 years who calls it Reagan. It’s a name that was foisted upon local residents by a non-local member of Congress – we had no say in the matter. It’s Washington National.

  18. Of course, the majority of individuals living in the entire DMV area have lived there less than 25 years. It’s a transient region. Just go to any home sports event and see all the visiting jerseys in the stands 🙂

    I’ve been here 14 now myself and thats longer than most people I know.

  19. The airport’s “name” is DCA.

    Lived in DC 10 years. Mostly called it DCA. Sometimes called it National. Never used any form of Reagan.

  20. @Arthur: There are definitely international flights: you can catch a flight to Canada (or Bermuda) there. The name “National” is not to distinguish it from an international airport.

  21. As someone who is hearing impaired, 35X is a nightmare. There is such a mass of confusion and overcrowding there that it is hard to figure out what flights are boarding and which ones are delayed.

  22. Joan – I’ve been here 42 years and I call it Reagan like most of the people I know; I realize that liberals like to say “everyone” which is probably true for the people in their sphere who must think the same and often, look the same. But, you can’t oppose the naming of airports because you dislike someone’s politics. Otherwise, we end up with Idlewild in New York and Hartsfield (minus Maynard Jackson) in Atlanta and no Harold Washington International Terminal at O’Hare (or do you call it Orchard Field?). There’s a big bronze statue of Reagan at the airport entrance, which I travel to every week; perhaps you (and from his photo, the well-fed author of this article) haven’t noticed.

  23. What a nightmare at DCA if you are trying to connect with American!!!! Since when does it make sense to have to take a shuttle bus from one concourse to the next, when it is just a 100 yard walk away?

  24. I just missed my flight. Was at 35x the whole time. No idea when it boarded.
    Who got that money to fix this, again?

  25. No one calls it Reagan except for the Republicans who live elsewhere but work here. It is either Washington National, for the oldtimers, or DCA, to everyone else under 40.

  26. I’m not sure this is a huge improvement. Instead of a slightly crowded waiting area (and most of the time it ISN’T crowded), and a bus ride to your plane, you will have a LOOOONG walk to the new concourse. I have no sympathy for any fools who got on the wrong bus and thus plane – the boarding door has the flight info, the BUS has the flight info on the message board on the side of it (usually), and they announce on the airplane where it is going – AND there are multiple people you can ask along the way. If you miss all that and end up in the wrong city, you are an idiot.

    The big improvement with the renovations will be being able to walk between concourses without going through security or riding the short bus between B & C and humping your stuff down then up all those stairs.

  27. Kevin – the walk between the north pier (gates 35-45) and new concourse is nearly identical (within inches) to the walk between center and north pier, or center and south pier. I would also add that two runs of moving walks (option to get off at midpoint), moving passengers north and south, will make the walk to and from the new concourse go much quicker!

    Gates areas are sized a little larger than gate areas at B-C, which means that, as long as the new concourse serves regional jets (smaller population than A320’s, 737’s), the gate areas will feel considerably more ample.

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