There are so many reasons I dislike Washington Dulles airport. It’s so bad I almost don’t even blame the airport’s former TSA head for getting drunk on duty, abandoning his post, and driving away erratically.
As with many airports, its far from city center. After a 45 minute drive from downtown without traffic, you reach the airport. And the way it’s laid out you’re still nowhere near most gates. In fact you have a walk to even reach security.
There’s a an airport train system, but United passengers (the airline operates a hub at Dulles, and one of its clubs used to be known for rodents) quickly realize that the train was built to drop people off where they intend to build a new terminal at some indeterminate point in the future.. rather than where passengers actually need to go today.
The original access road leading to Washington Dulles was built with a wide median to accommodate a rail line — something that’s expected to be completed nearly 60 years after the airport opened.
Uber and Lyft are finally solving a problem of regulation run amok, where a taxi monopoly was granted at the airport so Washington Flyer cabs are dispatched from the airport to the city, almost always returning empty, while cabs from DC head out to the airport to drop off passengers and return to the city empty because they aren’t permited to drop off passengers. Twice the cars making twice the trips necessary, without regard for the environment.
The original site for the airport was supposed to be closer to DC, in Fairfax County, but residents objected. So the government condemned houses in the predominantly African American neighborhood of Willard to build it instead.
Without public hearings, the federal government sent condemnation letters to all 87 Willard area landowners early in September 1958, and the letters came like a bolt. Many landowners formed a citizens association, but it disbanded, and everyone followed separate courses. Several hired lawyers, who took one-third of anything over the condemnation price.
The airports authority is one of the most corrupt in the country.
In 1966 Dulles International Airport was already regarded as a white elephant. It’s still problematic despite billions in ‘improvements’ spent over the last 15 years, excluding the cost to bring rail to the airport. And the airport had fewer passengers in 2015 than it did in 2004, even.
But how did we get the airport we have? The best way to understand Washington Dulles is to go back to how the concept was being explained before it was even built.
This animated film by Ray Eames and Charles Eames explains the idea — how tragic they believed it was to walk long distances to gates, how revolutionary it would be to have “mobile lounges” that became the Dulles People Movers.
And it offers a fascinating window into how the future of aviation was seen through the eyes of the 1950. With apologies I cannot seem to find whomever flagged this video for me.
Incidentally it’s amusing what passengers of the 1950s did prior to boarding:
Here’s the video, worth a watch: