Dulles is 26 miles west of DC in Sterling, Virginia. It is the primary international and long-haul gateway to the region. Opened in 1962 to relieve Washington National Airport (now Reagan National), it soon became an enduring mark in the nation's architecture.
The main terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen, is an architectural masterpiece, with a curved roof that arcs gracefully into air, suspended over a huge open ticketing and check-in area. At one point, this was the only building at the airport, and instead of the usual affair of the time where passengers walked to their plane on the tarmac, special shuttles known as "mobile lounges" and "plane mates" were used to ferry passengers between the terminal and their planes.
Unfortunately the layout hasn't responded well to the changed needs of modern air travel. In order to accommodate larger jets and more aerobridges, two satellite buildings were built over time. The layout includes lengthy corridors and long escalators and you will have to take a train between the main building and the concourses - expect that you will need some extra time to get to the gate. Many carriers serve the airport, which serves as an East Coast hub for United Airlines and a major gateway for Star Alliance airlines.
Now, the main terminal primarily houses ticket counters, baggage claim, and security screening, with only a handful of passenger gates, while the vast majority of flights arrive and depart from the two midfield terminals accessed by train, walkway, or mobile lounge.
There are two entrances to the screening area, the West and East Security Checkpoints.
TSA PreCheck and the private service CLEAR have set up their checkpoints for departing passengers in between the two general checkpoints.
- Concourse A
- United Express
- International Departures: Air China, Copa, Ethiopian
- Concourse B
- International Departures: Air India, ANA, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, South African, Turkish Airlines
- Aer Lingus (all flights, due to preclearance)
- Concourse C
- United and United Express only, as well as processing for international Star Alliance arrivals
- Concourse D
- United and United Express only
- Concourse H
- Waiting area for airlines with only plane mates
- Concourse Z
- Air Canada (all flights due to preclearance), Frontier
- International Arrivals Building (IAB)
- Gate for almost all international flights arriving at Dulles, with the exception of pre-clearance flights and Star Alliance flights. This building uses plane mates to take passengers from the plane to the building fr processing.
Each airline has a specific location for their check-in counters:
- Ticket Counter 1
- Aer Lingus, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air China, Air India, British Airways, Delta, Ethiopian, Etihad, Primera, Porter, Southwest, Volaris
- Ticket Counter 2
- Air France, American, Brussels, Copa, Emirates, KLM, Korean Air, Qatar, Royal Air Maroc, Saudia, Virgin Atlantic
- Ticket Counter 3
- Air Canada, Alaska, ANA, Austrian, Avancia, Frontier, Icelandair, jetBlue, Lufthansa, SAS, South African, Turkish
- Ticket Counter 4
- United and United Express only
The ticket counter numbers are designated by the order you pass them as you drive into the airport complex. For example, Counter 2 would be the second counter complex passed. This also means that the counter numbers are ordered in a west to east fashion (ex. 1 is the westernmost counter and 4 is the easternmost). Entering the airport means that you are facing a southerly direction, so keep that in mind when looking for your counter.
The airport has drop off zones at each counter, so you can stop at the zone corresponding to the number of your counter.
Some airlines have specific baggage claims for arriving passengers:
- Claims 1-5 - United
- Claims 6 - United, Aer Lingus
- Claim 7 - Frontier
- Claim 8 - special claim for oversized baggage
- Claim 10 - jetBlue
- Claims 11-12 - American, Ethiad
- Claims 13-14 - Delta, Southwest
- Claim 15 - All international arrivals except for preclearance flights
There is no Claim 9.
Star Alliance international arrivals arrive at the C concourse, where you go via a secure hallway between the sterile area and the windows on the edge of the concourse to the east end. There, you go through customs. At Dulles, if you get an orange box at passport control, you must go to a secondary screening room with your bags. Otherwise, you can simply take your checked bags off the conveyor and recheck them after walking about 50 feet (dogs will sniff your bag along the way). Afterwards, you reclear security. There are separate lines for U.S./Canadian and foreign nationals, the former getting TSA Precheck automatically and thus will not have to remove their belts and shoes.
- The Silver Line Express Bus operates every 15 minutes between the airport and the garage near the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station (Silver Line). The bus journey takes 10 minutes and costs $5. From there, after crossing the pedestrian bridge over the highway to reach the Metrorail station, the journey by Metrorail to the East End takes another 45 minutes. A cheaper but slower option to get from the airport to the garage near the Metrorail station is to take Fairfax Connector Bus Routes 981/983 which depart the airport every 20 minutes from 9AM-7PM and every 40 minutes from 6AM-9AM and 7PM-11PM. The bus journey takes 30 minutes and costs $2.00. The Silver Line of the Metrorail is being extended to the airport; however, the projected completion date is in 2021.
- Metrobus 5A makes stops in Herndon, Tysons Corner, Rosslyn Metrorail Station (Blue/Orange/Silver Lines), and L'Enfant Plaza Metrorail Station (Green/Yellow/Blue/Orange/Silver Lines), a few blocks south of the National Mall. It generally departs from the airport every 40 minutes on weekdays and hourly (though not on the hour) on weekends, taking 40-50 minutes to the Rosslyn Metrorail Station and 50-60 minutes to the L'Enfant Plaza Metrorail Station. The fare is $7.50 one-way (no change given). The bus stops near Curb 2E outside of the airport terminal.
- Fairfax Connector Bus #983 to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. The bus departs from the airport every 20 minutes daily, costing $2.00 and taking 12 minutes to reach the museum.
- Uber is a popular method of transport between the airport and the city due to the complexity of public transport. A trip to the East End costs around $45 using UberX or around $35 using UberPool and takes about 40-60 minutes. The pickup point can be reached by walking up the ramp after exiting the baggage claim area.
- Washington Flyer Taxi is the exclusive provider of taxis from the airport. A taxi trip to the East End costs around $75 and takes about 40-60 minutes. The taxi stand is down the ramp from the baggage claim area.
There are a variety of car rental companies at the airport:
Departure gates are split between the H and Z gates in the main terminal, one midfield terminal containing Concourses A and B, and a second midfield terminal containing Concourses C and D. It is possible to walk the length of each midfield terminal building end-to-end (i.e., there are no barriers between A and B or between C and D), and there is an underground pedestrian walkway connects the main terminal to the A/B midfield terminal.
The main way of traveling through the airport is the AeroTrain, a people mover that goes through Concourses C, A, the main terminal (near H and Z after security) and B and back; the AeroTrain does not connect to Concourse D. Trains arrive and depart every two minutes. Note that the station for Concourse C is situated a few hundred feet from its AeroTrain station, and travelers may wish to factor in additional time for this walk.
"Mobile lounge" shuttles connect the main terminal, Concourse A, and Concourse D.
- Air France KLM Lounge, Next to Gate A19. 7AM-9:30PM. The lounge is closed until Spring 2019. Travelers will be redirected to the Virgin Atlantic or Ethiad lounge, depending on class of ticket.
- British Airways Lounge. For British Airways and Aer Lingus premium passengers, and for Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire cardholders.
- Etihad Airways First and Business Class Lounge. Opens three hours before departure.
- Lufthansa Senator and Business Lounge.
- Turkish Airlines Lounge (Saudi Alfursan Lounge). 6AM-11PM. Accessible to Turkish, Saudia and Qatar business class passengers due to a partnership. to the point that Saudia brands this lounge as an "Alfursan Lounge".
- United Lounges.
- United Global First Lounge.
- United Club.
- USO Lounge, Main Terminal Arrivals, across from carousel 12, ☏ . 6AM-10PM.
- Virgin Atlantic Lounge.
Eat and drink
Free Internet access is available by connecting to the FlyDulles WiFi network. Follow the directions on the splash screen and you'll be good to go.
Concourses C and D are temporary buildings that actually lasted 36 years so expect poor quality.
Behind security, Microhotel operator Sleepbox is to open a facility at Dulles on Concourse A in 2019. Passengers will be able to rent "sleep pods" on an hourly basis, for up to 12 hours.
Outside security, the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott is on the grounds of the airport. It is not connected to the terminal, but it operates a free shuttle bus. Additional hotels are located in the nearby areas of Herndon, Reston, Ashburn, and Sterling.
The airport is in Loudoun County, Virginia, some distance from Washington.
The free Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, which includes an unrivaled collection of spacecraft and aircraft, most famously the space shuttle Discovery, is right next to the airport, although still quite a ways from the terminal as it is off the end of a runway a few miles long.