Why Washington Dulles Is So Much Worse Than Close-In National Airport

Washington Dulles is a very bad airport. And the reasons why are simple. It’s far from the city but once you make it to the airport you’re still nowhere near the airport. There will eventually be a train to the airport but it – too – will stop before the actual airport.

The reasons Dulles is so bad are legion, but it’s not limited to corruption. Sure contracts go to friends, the Office of Audit doesn’t do formal audits and jobs go to unqualified friends and relatives. But the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority oversees both Washington Dulles and National airports, and National is so much better.

The building of Washington Dulles involved condemning African American homes so that white business travelers could read Playboy.

From the Original Washington Dulles Concept Video

Dulles airport is 30 miles from the U.S. Capitol. National airport is just 4 miles away. But it’s not really that distance that’s the biggest challenge. When you arrive at the airport you’re still nowhere near where your flight will depart.

Instead there’s an expensive train system to take people from the entrance out to the terminals. It’s so costly that Washington National airport passengers are the ones who have to pay for it. Funds are transferred from National to cover the costs, in order to subsidize the United Airlines hub, for fear of pricing United out of the market.

Plenty of airports are a distance from the city, and have trains out to their terminals, although the best airports move people to the airport and through the airport quickly. However Dulles airport takes the problem a couple of steps further. The train wasn’t built to take people where passengers fly from today – it was built to take people to where the airport wants to build a new concourse in the future, even though there are no current plans to build such a concourse. So you take the train and then have a long walk to the concourse which was dubbed temporary over 30 years ago.

Some passengers though don’t even have that luxury, and are instead relegated to ‘mobile lounges’.

And what’s it like to actually ride one of these AT-AT vehicles that stop for planes along the way?

Unfortunately for many trips visitors to the DC area are forced to Dulles because, with a handful of exceptions, flights longer than 1250 miles to the better airport are illegal.

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. It’s been along time since air travel was fun. I was a frequent flyer from all three airports. Getting to DCA meant fighting traffic of epic proportions BWI is no better. IAD and it’s growth reflect the bubble that is Washington DC. Your race baiting is unnecessary and detracts further from a useless article.

  2. I read your remarks and wonder if you heard about yesterday: June 22, 2022 (0622.22). We have over a million miles with United. Yep!

    Could not find one single open space yesterday to park. Got inside after driving around for 30-minutes. The crowd of people was like sardines in a can! We got registered, upgraded to first-class and proceeded to the lounge! Time to board: sat in our seats. Front row. Plane full and past departure time because staff is NOW filling the plane tank! I can see the staff outside my window. Pilot is angry and goes outside to have a discussion. We waited two hours and finally are told by an airport staff person we can disembark if we want… Everyone leaves! Pilots are from SC! We go back into the terminal and the flight is cancelled by the pilots. Weather! All the flights are cancelled and now you have an announcement to go to another terminal (C) to book new flights. There must have been 1,000 people in line! We went to the lounge, were rebooked after about 45-minutes! Excellent gal who helped us! Next we go pick up our luggage at customer service near baggage claim 4; there were luggage bags everywhere; a minimum of 1,000 bags with lines of people being told to return in four hours! We looked around, ourselves, and found them! Crazy!

  3. When Dulles Airport was first built (1962 or so), there were no concourses, only the main terminal building, with a whole line of mobile lounge doors on the far side. You would board the mobile lounge designated for YOUR flight, and it would take you DIRECTLY TO THE PARKED AIRPLANE and raise itself to airplane door height. You would walk off the lounge directly into the airplane. No concourses, no gates, no jetways.

    After a few years, that no longer worked. So a midfield concourse was built. Now the mobile lounge took you to that concourse. You then walked along that concourse to a normal gate with normal checkin and normal jetways to get onto the airplane.

    Sometime in the 2000s the train began. For United, it only went to concourse C. If you had a flight leaving from D, you could either walk ALL THE WAY to that concourse (they were connected), or you could take a mobile lounge from the main terminal to the concourse D area. And yes, it is a long walk from the concourse C train terminal, because a new concourse is supposed to be built and that will be on top of the train terminal.

    Dulles used to be my main airport when I lived there because most of my flights were to the West Coast on United so National Airport wasn’t useful. I did use National for flights to Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, like that.

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