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The Local Airports: Zagat Weighs In

John Deiner

Is Dulles the new BWI?

Just a few years ago, ranting about BWI was a common practice, but since it's multi-quadrillion-dollar makeover, many of the complaints have gone away. And now comes the 2007 Zagat Survey on airports, in which BWI and Reagan National are clear favorites over Dulles.

According to a recent Post story, "The poll asked 7,498 frequent fliers to rate their international and domestic experiences. BWI and National ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in overall domestic airport quality. Dulles came in 22nd out of 27 U.S. airports in the survey. "

Ouch. Still, for many the best area airport will depend on geography: If you have to drive 90 minutes to wait in line at the new and improved BWI, it's going to seem more painful than zipping down the road to Dulles to do likewise.

So what's your favorite area airport?

By John Deiner |  November 23, 2007; 7:23 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airports , John Deiner , Lists
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I like BWI, except that the long-term parking sometimes gets pretty full.

I haven't ever gone international from BWI, and usually only go international from Dulles so it's hard to compare them.

But compared to entering European countries I have to say that Dulles is a miserable airport. The Customs area is like a cattle car in comparison to Munich or Frankfurt. The terminals are low and dark, and the people movers are rinky-dink.

Dulles is quite impressive from the outside, but once you get into the bowels of the place there isn't much you can say about it.

No wonder I like BWI better!

Posted by: RoseG | November 23, 2007 9:56 AM

Once you get past security Dulles isn't so bad inside, but getting there is a bear from my end of town, the eats side. I guess if you're in Fairfax it's probably better though. BWI still has alot of work to do outside of the Southwest terminal to make things better. There's not many places to eat.

Posted by: EricS | November 23, 2007 10:57 AM

Dulles was not bad back in the day with the trams lifted you to your plane door. Today, it is a dark and gloomy place. BWI is very inconvenient for me and the previous poster is correct, long term parking is terrible. I don't use BWI any longer.

I still prefer DCA, even on international flights. Connecting in the New York metro area for Europe or Miami for South America has never proved to be a problem for me. I am one of the lucky people that in 40 years of flying for both personal and business, I never have lost a piece of luggage.

Posted by: MICHAEL1945 | November 23, 2007 11:19 AM

DCA is of course the gold standard, but I much prefer Dulles to BWI. Getting there is much easier, and parking is available closer to the airport (and without taking a randomly scheduled shuttle bus). In addition, most of the renovation work at Dulles seems to be behind the scenes, so you don't see much in the airport. Last time I flew out of BWI, the Southwest terminal was filled with construction, and finding food was next to impossible.

Posted by: Bethesda | November 23, 2007 11:25 AM

Dulles is undergoing a multi-year transformation so perhaps it will look better afterwards, but right now it is the most depressing airport in the area and also the most difficult to get to by public transportation. Definitely the worst selection of restaurants and shops if you are meeting someone and cannot go to the area beyond security. Parts of National (e.g., edge of main terminal, which Alaska Airlines uses) still look like works in process. Have not been in the old terminal (still used by Northwest and others) in years so cannot judge it.

Posted by: Steve | November 23, 2007 11:26 AM

The Airport Formerly Known As National.

It's on the Metro line. Duh.

Posted by: Slim | November 23, 2007 11:43 AM

IAD -- Is A Dump -- compared to BWI and DCA:

(A) The new Southwest Airlines terminal at BWI is gorgeous with plenty of food options and good views of the runways. The convenient daily parking garage is also a huge improvement. And if you can't drive, you have many options to get to the airport including MARC, AMTRAK and Metrobus.

(B) DCA is, of course, right on the Metro line and very convenient to me (only 30 minutes by Metro, 15 minutes by car). Nice open terminal, wide concourses, and plenty of good quality shopping before you go through security, which in my book has been quite efficient.

(C) IAD does have Metrobus service (from Rosslyn and L'enfant Plaza) and Washington Flyer service from West Falls Church (ergo, Metro-accessible), but it's just too far for me. I also hate IAD because it's been jury-rigged to accommodate post 9/11 security without accompanying infrastructure improvements and it takes forever to get through the security checkpoints. Terminals C & D are just downright dreary -- dark, narrow concourses, no windows to view the ground activities (you can barely see the plane on which you're going to fly), and limited shopping options. Terminal B is far nicer, but since I tend to fly United most often, I'm doomed to the hell that looks like a modified shipping container.

Posted by: Arlington | November 23, 2007 12:00 PM

Since I live in southern Fairfax county, I always look to DCA first. But if they don't have a non-stop to my destination and IAD does, I'll likely use IAD. Using the Baltimore airport is just too long a trip for me.

Posted by: Kevin | November 23, 2007 12:55 PM

Once again...there's more to the world than Northwest DC and NoVA!

For those of us who live in Northeast DC, PG county, Ann Arundel, or Howard county...DULLES is the airport that's a 90-minute drive away, and BWI is the nearby one.

Whenever I see a Washington Post reporter complaining about how getting to BWI is inconvenient for "everyone", I'm reminded of how small the Washington Post bubble really is...

Posted by: stuckman | November 25, 2007 2:58 PM

Uh, who said anything about BWI being inconvenient for "everyone?" Not I (nor anyone else making comments in this forum, for that matter). BWI is my airport of choice since it's the closest one to my home, and people at The Washington Post live in all parts of this region and travel from all three airports, rest assured.

Posted by: John Deiner | November 25, 2007 6:05 PM

Heh, actually nobody in the article said that. My comment was caused by my growing irritation at the NoVA-centric coverage in the Post in general.

A previous post on your blog is a better example of this:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/travellog/2007/01/post.html

"BWI isn't the easiest airport to get to"? Uh, for half of our metro area, it's easier to get to BWI than IAD...but nobody ever suggests that IAD is inconveniently located...

Posted by: stuckman | November 25, 2007 11:04 PM

When I lived in souther Fairfax, I hated all airports except National. Dulles was annoying in all respects, but closer than BWI. I hated flying from BWI just because of the drive. Of course, being a gov't worker, most of my flights were for work and I had no choice in the airport. The only redeeming quality I saw in BWI was its cool Daily Garage that tells you where to find parking.

Now I have moved to Baltimore, and I am loving BWI. My only complaint is that they won't open more security lanes in the morning, so everyone with 6am flights is lined up and cranky.

Posted by: RT | November 26, 2007 10:53 AM

I live about 2 miles from Dulles, so I rarely even bother looking at BWI or Reagan: there's almost nothing that could make them so much better as to be worth the extra trip. And even when I lived further away and there was more of a choice, I barely noticed anything about the airport itself, and mainly chose based on which airport had the best (almost always meaning "cheapest") flight options for my trip.

RT: I also love the BWI garages that direct you to parking. Wouldn't mind seeing that in more places.

Posted by: KR | November 26, 2007 11:52 AM

BWI's only 30 minutes from Annapolis, so it's the airport of choice for us. I'm puzzled by the complaints about long-term parking; there's so much off-airport parking very close in that I haven't used the airport lots in years. Most of the commercial lots have discount coupons on their websites, and Park n Go gives a discount if you have a gov't id.

I hate Dulles so much that we drive to Philadelphia if we're flying to Europe - it takes only about 30 minutes more than going to Dulles, and it's a much nicer airport.

Posted by: annapolitan | November 26, 2007 12:05 PM

I'm such a low-fare slave that I'll go whatever airport will get me there for the least amount of money - I'm about the same distance from Dulles and BWI, and a short metro ride from National. I do prefer international options that put me across the ocean first, then connect over there (I'd rather be stuck in Copenhagen for three days than Newark, thankyouverymuch) and that usually seems to mean Dulles. The metro and Washington Flyer combination works great for me.

Posted by: h3 | November 26, 2007 1:07 PM

DCA is the best hands down!

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Posted by: pkuaei ywqphzmd | December 2, 2007 6:04 PM

Both IAD and BWI are equal driving time, but BWI wins hands-down for its new facelift, new garage, and overall scale. One can reserve a parking space at an off-site lot, which we did this Thanksgiving, and the shuttle picked us up at our car and dropped us off at our car on the return trip. DCA scares me--getting there, parking there,flying up the river. I am glad I have two other options.

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