Vietnam Airlines 787 Lands at Washington National Airport!

In 1998 a United DC-10 made an emergency landing at Washington’s National airport. It was a Chicago – Baltimore flight that was first diverted to Dulles (after being held over Cleveland) and then to National due to weather. It was low on fuel, had 300 passengers on board, and had little choice but to make the landing. Emergency equipment deployed to the airport’s longest ~ 7000 foot runway.

I remember at the time being surprised that National was the diversion airport given the airport’s postage stamp size and short runways. Widebodies don’t normally operate there. Indeed, I wondered as well how they were going to manage getting the plane out of National, though presumably that was done with minimum fuel (and passengers offloaded, and bused to Baltimore).

That’s why I was surprised to see what I understand is a Vietnam Airlines 787-9 intentionally fly from Washington Dulles to National airport this morning.

Image courtesy Vietnam Airlines

It’s planning to make the return trip this evening.

A Boeing 787 normally needs about a little more than 8000 feet of runway (about 5% less runway than a DC-10). Not carrying passengers, and without much fuel, it can presumably thus land on a 7000 foot runway.

Don’t expect to see 787s landing at National in the future, then — let alone a Vietnam Airlines 787, since National doesn’t have immigration facilities (its only international flights involve preclearance at origin, such as flights from Canada and the Bahamas).

(HT: Kevin S.)

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, 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. Correct me if I’m wrong, but even flights originating at an airport with pre-clearance facilities can only deplane passengers at airports with Customs Facilities… Whether those facilities are setup for handling regular incoming flights, or just personnel and equipment to use when needed is another issue. I seem to recall that from stories of diversions etc…

  2. Even flightaware calls the airport Reagan Nation. You really should get over that hang up of yours.

  3. @Mason, does it now?

    Too bad I didn’t know about this flight; would have headed over to watch. Boeing twitter has some pics and there is one (fairly poor) video on youtube so far.

  4. My co-workers and I saw it land from Gravelly Point and then got some great shots from the economy lot. The aircraft will officially be handed over from Boeing to VN at an event attended by the Vietnam General Secretary. It departs DCA around 1900 tonight.

  5. @Darren Mak – that’s incorrect. Passengers going through preclearance facilities outside of the US go through both immigration and customs. They then land just as though they were on a domestic flight. A big benefit of preclearance that I don’t hear mentioned often is that if you have a connecting flight and check bags you don’t need to collect your bags at the US gateway and re-check them; they get checked all the way through to your destination.

  6. I’ve lived in Washington for a while now and I definitely call it Reagan. Democrats get airports too (JFK, etc.). I don’t know why this whole Reagan vs. National thing still exists. It’s Reagan. Nobody complains about JFK. Even John Foster Dulles was a Republican and nobody complains about the name, just the distance from downtown.

  7. We already know it was at IAD on a marketing trip. Could it be possible that Vietnam Airlines did a shoot that will advertise the U.S. as a destination and the only way to get clearance to fly by the various monuments was to fly into DCA?

  8. 7,000 feet is more than enough distance to land; you’re certainly correct that this wouldn’t be feasible with a normal fuel and passenger load, but with a presumably very light fuel load and not many passengers, more than enough distance to take off as well. You could land/takeoff a 747 on 7,000 feet if there was no one on it and it didn’t have much gas!

    Pretty cool nonetheless, will have to find some photos.

  9. @Mason – I still only call it National or DCA, too, so it’s hardly some rare quirk. Do you call ATL “Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport”? Of course not.

  10. I live in the area and I don’t mind people calling it Reagan, or National, or Reagan National. I just don’t like the weird condescension people get about one or the other. There’s no inherent reason one is better than the other. Nor is there any reason Frisco is a dumb thing to call San Francisco. People feel superior about really random things

  11. Why does everything have to be political. So sick and tired of it. Even on travel blogs? REALLY? Enough is enough guys. One wants to call it just plain National? then so be it. I want to call it Reagan and so? Someone has already fundamentally transformed this country, lets not transform travel blogs! please!

  12. I think this was the same airplane used at the Paris Air Show for Boeing’s 787-9 display, probably just coming back home on a promotional tour before being given back to Vietnam Airlines

  13. Re Reagan vs National – for me and most people that call it National airport, it’s not a political thing, it’s a habit. The name changed somewhat recently (in the grand scheme of airport history) and well after I had been using the names of the area’s airports for many years (and I’m 39). I think natives of a certain age will always call it National.

    And, for what it’s worth, when was the last time you heard someone refer to Thurgood Marshall airport? (I’ve never done it and I don’t think I’ve heard it done by others.)

  14. @Andrew The evening traffic reporter on WTOP referred to Marshall Airport last week. Surprised and momentarily confused me. Never heard anyone else refer to BWI that way.
    I’m really bummed I didn’t know about this earlier or I would have gone out to Gravelly Point to watch the plane take off tonight. *sigh*

  15. I have flown many National DC10 flights from LGA to many cities in FL. Yeah, remember them? Both runways at LGA are 7,000 feet. Takeoffs were a full load of passengers, probably half fueled. I don’t remember many issues other than the destinations were not over 1,200 miles. So, I’m guessing the runway at DCA is not a big deal for an empty 787.

  16. SAN is also known as Lindbergh Field. Unfortunately, it turns out that Charles Lindbergh was quite anti-Semitic! They took down a mural on the commuter terminal a few years ago but the name stands.

    I agree that names are best left unspoken, although we don’t really have a choice with multi-airport cities (IAD, JFK, LGA, etc.).

  17. in light of the disaster that inhabits the White House now, and the fact that Reagan was unquestionably the greatest president in your lifetime, a bit of respect seems in order.

  18. I suppose I’m a bit of a hypocrite in that I refer to my home airport of LIT as its former name Little Rock National instead of the recently renamed Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field. However I could compromise on Clinton National for brevity.

  19. If you were born in 1981 and died in 1989 Reagan was certainly the greatest President of your lifetime. Otherwise, highly debatable.

  20. ABC News today reported that President Obama met with the General Secretary of Vietnam (either today or yesterday), and that matters related to maritime disputes in the South China Sea were discussed. I suspect that this may be the reason for the presence of the plane there.

  21. I’ve been flying in and out of National for more than fifty years. Always was National and always will be National!

  22. Gary, I come to your blog less and less these days precisely because of the politicized comment sections. 2 articles today with trite “your side sucks!” postings. And add to that your unneeded and unwanted glibertarian comments in your posts.

    For the record: day-to-day life in this country hasn’t changed a bit through the “evil” Reagan nor the “evil” Obama. And you chumps who think it has/did are just being wholly uninformed idiots who are led by the nose by your preferred political party. And, yes, Gary, that includes you and your Koch overlords.

  23. @Sick of Partisan Idiots – commenters never bother me, I figure comments reflect mostly on the person making them. And I don’t mind, and even like, having my presuppositions challenged. I read things I disagree with.

    I’m curious though, ignoring the level of discourse in your comment like calling others chumps, and snarkily calling my comments “glibertarian” — what in this post do you even disagree with? I’ve read your comment and I actually don’t know.

  24. @Elliott

    “I don’t know why this whole Reagan vs. National thing still exists.”

    I guess you didn’t live here when it was being renamed. It mostly has to do with resentment about Congress meddling in local affairs (and local dislike of Reagan, too). Congress even threatened to withhold all funding from WMATA if they didn’t pay to change all signage and system maps.

    It’s still ironic that they renamed an airport after the guy who busted the Air Traffic Controller’s union.



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