Dulles International Airport

Airport in Dulles, Virginia serving the Washington Metropolitan Area in the United States

Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA: IAD, ICAO: KIAD, FAA LID: IAD), typically referred to as Dulles International Airport, Dulles Airport, Washington Dulles or simply Dulles ( DUL-iss), is an international airport in the Eastern United States, located in Loudoun County and Fairfax County in Virginia, 26 miles (42 km) west of Downtown Washington, D.C.[4]

Opened in 1962, it is named after John Foster Dulles (1888–1959),[5][6] the 52nd U.S. Secretary of State who served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Dulles main terminal is a well-known landmark designed by Eero Saarinen, who also designed the famous TWA terminal (now the TWA hotel) at New York's JFK airport. Operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Washington Dulles Airport occupies 13,000 acres (20.3 sq mi; 52.6 km2)[2] straddling the Loudoun–Fairfax line.[7] Most of the airport is in the unincorporated community of Dulles in Loudoun County, with a small portion in the unincorporated community of Chantilly in Fairfax County. The airport is one of the two that is located in the Washington metropolitan area.

Dulles is one of the three major airports in the larger Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area, the others being Reagan National Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Dulles is considered the region's international air hub, with dozens of nonstop international flights.[8] Dulles has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the Mid-Atlantic outside the New York metropolitan area, including approximately 90% of the international passenger traffic in the Baltimore–Washington region.[9] It had more than 20 million passenger enplanements every year from 2004 to 2019, with 24 million enplanements in 2019.[10][11] On a typical day, more than 60,000 passengers pass through Dulles to and from more than 125 destinations around the world.[10][12]

Increased domestic travel from Reagan National Airport has eroded some of Dulles's domestic routes.[8] Dulles overtook Reagan in total enplanements in 2019.[13] However, in 2018, Dulles Airport surpassed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in yearly passenger boardings after having fewer passengers since 2015.[14] Furthermore, it still ranks behind (BWI) in total annual passenger boardings.[15]

Dulles is a hub for United Airlines and is frequently used by airlines which United has codeshare agreements with, mostly composed of Star Alliance members like Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa.

Before World War II, Hoover Field was the main commercial airport serving Washington, on the site now occupied by the Pentagon and its parking lots. It was replaced by Washington National Airport in 1941, a short distance southeast. After the war, in 1948, the Civil Aeronautics Administration began to consider sites for a second major airport to serve the nation's capital.[16] Congress passed the Washington Airport Act in 1950 to provide funding for a new airport in the region.[17] The initial CAA proposal in 1951 called for the airport to be built in Fairfax County near what is now Burke Lake Park, but protests from residents, as well as the rapid expansion of Washington's suburbs during the time, led to reconsideration of this plan.[18] One competing plan called for the airport to be built in the Pender area of Fairfax County, while another called for the conversion of Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Maryland, into a commercial airport.[16]

The current site was selected by President Eisenhower in 1958;[18] the Dulles name was chosen by Eisenhower's aviation advisor Pete Quesada, who later served as the first head of the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result of the site selection, the unincorporated, largely African-American community of Willard, which once stood in the airport's current footprint, was demolished, and 87 property owners had their holdings condemned.[16]

Dulles was also built over a lesser-known airport named Blue Ridge Airport, chartered in 1938 by the U.S. The airport was Loudoun County's first official airport consisting of two grass intersecting runways in the shape of an "X". The location of the former Blue Ridge Airport sits where the Dulles Air Freight complex and Washington Dulles Airport Marriott now sit today.[19][better source needed]

The civil engineering firm Ammann and Whitney was named lead contractor. The airport was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy and Eisenhower on November 17, 1962.[5][6][20] As originally opened, the airport had three long runways (current day runways 1C/19C, 1R/19L, and 12/30) and one shorter one (where current taxiway Q is located). Its original name, Dulles International Airport, was changed in 1984 to Washington Dulles International Airport.[21]

The main terminal was designed in 1958 by famed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, and it is highly regarded for its graceful beauty, suggestive of flight. In the 1990s, the main terminal at Dulles was reconfigured to allow more space between the front of the building and the ticket counters. Additions at both ends of the main terminal more than doubled the structure's length. The original terminal at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, was modeled after the Saarinen terminal at Dulles.

The design included a landscaped man-made lake to collect rainwater, a low-rise hotel, and a row of office buildings along the north side of the main parking lot. The design also included a two-level road in front of the terminal to separate arrival and departure traffic and a federally owned limited access highway connecting the terminal to the Capital Beltway (I-495) about 17 miles (27 km) to the east. (Eventually, the highway system grew to include a parallel toll road to handle commuter traffic and an extension to connect to I-66). The access road had a wide median strip to allow the construction of a passenger rail line, which will be in the form of an extension of the Washington Metro's Silver Line and is expected to be completed in 2021.

By the 1980s the original design, featuring mobile lounges to meet each plane, was no longer well-suited to Dulles' role as a hub airport. Instead, midfield concourses were added to allow passengers to walk between connecting flights without visiting the main terminal. Mobile lounges were still used for international flights and to transport passengers between the midfield concourses and the main terminal. A tunnel (consisting of a passenger walkway and moving sidewalks) which links the main terminal and Concourse B was opened in 2004.[48] The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) began a renovation program for the airport including a new security mezzanine with more room for lines.[49]

A new train system, dubbed AeroTrain and developed by Mitsubishi, began in 2010 to transport passengers between the concourses and the main terminal.[50] The system, which uses rubber tires and travels along a fixed underground guideway,[50] is similar to the people mover systems at Singapore Changi Airport,[50] Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Denver International Airport. The train is intended to replace the mobile lounges, which many passengers found crowded and inconvenient. The initial phase includes the main terminal station, a permanent Concourse A station, a permanent Concourse B station, a permanent midfield concourse station (with access to the current temporary C concourse via a tunnel with moving walkways), and a maintenance facility.[50] Mobile lounges continue to service the D Concourse from both the main terminal and Concourse A. Even after AeroTrain is built out and the replacement Concourses C and D are built, the mobile lounges and plane mates will still continue to be used, to transport international arriving passengers to the International Arrivals Building, as well as transport passengers to aircraft parked on hardstands without direct access to jet bridges. Dulles has stated that the wait time for a train does not exceed four minutes, compared to the average 15-minute wait and travel time for mobile lounges.

Under the development plan, future phases would see the addition of several new midfield concourses and a new south terminal.[51] A fourth runway (parallel to the existing runways 1 and 19 L&R) opened in 2008,[52] and development plans include a fifth runway to parallel the existing runway 12–30.[53] If this runway is built, the current runway will be re-designated as 12L-30R while the new runway will be designated 12R-30L. An expansion of the B concourse, used by many low-cost airlines as well as international arrivals, has been completed, and the building housing Concourses C and D will eventually be knocked down to make room for a more ergonomic building. Because Concourses C and D are temporary concourses, the only way to get to those concourses is via moving walkway from the Concourse C station which is built in the location of the future gates and Concourse D by mobile lounge from the main terminal.[54]

In the short term, United Airlines is currently constructing a 20,000 square foot (1,900 m2) buildout on Concourse C between gate C18 and the AeroTrain entrance to provide space for a new Polaris Lounge for international passengers.[55]

Decades-old rules set by Congress that limit the number of takeoffs and landings, as well as distance of routes, at Reagan Airport were intended in part to keep more flights at Dulles. However, those rules have been weakened by Congress over the years, causing Dulles to lose 200,000 passengers to Reagan between 2011 and 2013.[8]

Dulles originally used airport code DIA, the initials of Dulles International Airport. When handwritten, it was often misread as DCA, the code for Washington National Airport, so in 1968 Dulles' code was changed to IAD.[56]

The airport's terminal complex consists of a main terminal (which includes four of the original gates, "Z" gates), and two parallel midfield terminal buildings: Concourses A/B and C/D. The entire terminal complex has 123 gates and 16 hardstand locations[57] from which passengers can board or disembark using the airport's plane mate vehicles.[7]

Conceived in early planning sessions in 1959, Dulles is one of the few remaining airports to use the mobile lounge (also known as "plane mates" or "people movers") now only used for transport to the International Arrivals Building as well as transport for Concourse D. They have all been given names based on the postal abbreviations of 50 states, e.g., VA, MD, AK.[58]

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has gradually phased out the mobile lounge system for inter-terminal passenger movements in favor of the AeroTrain, an underground people mover which currently operates to all of the concourses except concourse D, with passenger tunnels remaining to concourses A and B. Plane mates remain in use to disembark international passengers and carry them to the International Arrivals Building, as well as to transport passengers to and from aircraft on the hard stands (i.e., those parked remotely on the apron without access to jet bridges).[59][60]

The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenary curve above the luggage check-in area.

Dulles's iconic main terminal houses ticketing on the upper level, baggage claim and U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the lower level, and annexes for the International Arrivals Building for international passenger processing, as well as the Z gates (used by Air Canada, Frontier and United Express), various information kiosks and other support facilities. The main terminal was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1966 for its design concept; its roof is a suspended catenary providing a wide enclosed area unimpeded by any columns.

The main terminal was extended in 1996 to 1,240 feet (380 m)—Saarinen's original design length—which was slightly more than double its originally constructed length of 600 feet (180 m).[57] On September 22, 2009, an expansion to include the 41,400 square feet (3,850 m2) International Arrivals Building opened for customs and immigration processing with a capacity to process 2,400 passengers per hour.[61]

Also in September 2009, a 121,700 square feet (11,310 m2) central security checkpoint was added on a new security mezzanine level of the main terminal. This checkpoint replaced previous checkpoints which were located behind the ticketing areas,[62] however, travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck and CLEAR still use this area to clear security.[63] A separate security checkpoint is available on the baggage claim level. Both security checkpoints connect to the AeroTrain, which links the main terminal with the A, B, and C concourses.

All airlines aside from Air Canada Express, Frontier Airlines, and United Express operate out of two linear satellite terminals which are Concourses A and B, and Concourses C and D.

All non-United flights operate out of these two concourses as well as some United Express flights. Concourse A (which has 47 gates) composes the eastern part of the closest midfield terminal building. It consists of a permanent ground-level set of gates designed for small planes and regional jets used by United Express, and several former Concourse B gates.[64] The concourse is primarily used for international flights. Air France operates an airline lounge opposite gate A22, Etihad Airways operates a First and Business Class lounge across from gate A15, and Virgin Atlantic has a Clubhouse lounge across from gate A32. Concourse A's AeroTrain station is located about halfway through the concourse, between gates A6 and A14.

Concourse B (which has 28 gates) composes the western half of the building. It is the first of the permanent elevated midfield concourses. Originally constructed in 1998 and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, the B concourse contained 20 gates. In 2003, 4 additional gates were added to concourse B, followed by a 15-gate expansion in 2008.[65] In addition to the AeroTrain station located between gates B51 and B62, Concourse B also has an underground walkway to connect it to the main terminal. Concourse B is used by some international carriers, and is also utilized by all non-United domestic and Canada flights. The facility also includes a British Airways Galleries lounge, a Lufthansa lounge divided into Senator and Business class sections located between gates B49 and B51, and a Turkish Airlines Lounge near gate B43.[66]

The interior of Concourse C and D, where United Airlines's hub operation is based

Concourses C/D are solely used for United Airlines flights, as it functions as their hub at IAD. All mainline United flights and most United Express regional jet operations operate out of these concourses (some United Express flights use Concourse A).

These concourses were constructed in 1983 and designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. The two concourses have 22 gates each, numbered C1–C28 and D1–D32, with odd-numbered gates on the north side of the building and even numbered gates on the south side. Concourse C composes the eastern half of the terminal and Concourse D composes the gates on the west half of the terminal.[67][68] The C/D concourses were given a face lift in 2006 which included light fixture upgrades, new paint finishes, new ceiling grids and tiles, heating and air conditioning replacement, and complete restroom renovations.[68]

Concourse C also has a dedicated Federal Inspection Station located at ground level. International United flights not originating at an airport with US customs pre-clearance can directly deplane passengers via the jet bridge at Concourse C (as opposed to using plane mates to offload passengers). Once deplaned, arriving passengers are separated. Passengers terminating at Dulles take a mobile lounge that transports them to the International Arrivals Building, while connecting passengers continuing on another United flight go through U.S. Customs and Immigration at the FIS station on the ground level. Since this immigration facility is only for connecting passengers on United and other Star Alliance carriers, it has shorter lines and passengers do not have to re-clear security at the massive security checkpoints in the main terminal.

A new and permanent C/D concourse (also called "Tier 2") is planned as part of the D2 Dulles Development Project. The new building is to include a three-level structure with 44 airline gates and similar amenities to Concourse B.[68] The concourse plan includes a dedicated mezzanine corridor with moving sidewalks to serve international passengers. The design and construction of the new C/D concourse has not been scheduled.[68] When built, it is planned that both terminals will be connected to the main terminal and other concourses via the AeroTrain. To that extent, the AeroTrain station at Concourse C was built at the location where the future Concourse C/D structure is proposed to be built, and is connected to the existing Concourse C via an underground walkway.

Air traffic control tower viewed through a skylight in the main terminal

Since many major domestic and international airlines have a large presence at Washington Dulles, there are numerous airline lounges within the airport:

Washington Dulles is accessible via the Dulles Access Road/Dulles Greenway (State Route 267) and State Route 28. The Dulles Airport Access Highway is a toll-free, limited access highway owned by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to facilitate car access to Washington Dulles from the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66.[133] After it opened, non-airport traffic between Washington and Reston became so heavy that a parallel set of toll lanes were added on the same right-of-way to accommodate non-airport traffic (Dulles Toll Road). However, the airport-only lanes are both less congested as well as toll-free. As of November 1, 2008, MWAA assumed responsibility from the Virginia Department of Transportation both for operating the Dulles Toll Road and for the construction of a rapid transit rail line down its median. Route 28, which runs north–south along the eastern edge of the airport, has been upgraded to a limited access highway, with the interchanges financed through a property tax surcharge on nearby business properties. The Dulles Toll Road has been extended to the west to Leesburg as the Dulles Greenway.

Fairfax Connector bus routes 981 and 983 serve Washington Dulles, connecting to the Herndon–Monroe park & ride lot in Herndon, the Reston Town Center transit in Reston, the Wiehle–Reston East Metro station, and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air and Space Museum.

The Metrobus 5A route also operates service to the airport. The bus stops at the Herndon–Monroe park & ride lot in Herndon and the Rosslyn Metro station in Arlington and terminates at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station in Southwest DC. Rosslyn can be accessed by the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines, while L'Enfant Plaza is also served by the Yellow and Green lines.

Megabus provides service from Dulles to Charlottesville and Blacksburg.

Washington Flyer has a monopoly to operate cabs from Washington Dulles Airport.[134] Uber and Lyft are popular modes of transport to and from the airport and MWAA receives a $4 fee per trip, which is included in the quoted fare.[135]

Construction is underway to connect the airport to Washington, D.C., via the Silver Line of the Washington Metro.[136] While initial plans called for completion of the station in 2016, officials now[when?] expect the service to begin operation in early 2022.[137][138][139]