The airports that serve those in the Washington D.C. area are actually located in Washington D.C. Two airports, Reagan (DCA) and Dulles (IAD) are located in Northern Virginia, and Marshall Airport (BWI) is located just out the city of Baltimore, Maryland.
From my childhood living in Arlington, Virginia and visiting my family members who live in the area the three airports I have visited are the ones that have become one that I have the most experience with. Each airport is unique and is different in terms of how close the airport is D.C., flight availability and amenities at the terminal. In the absence of having been through them it’s difficult to decide which one should fly to.
If you’re planning to travel in Washington D.C. or the region around I’ll explain the airports you can fly to with a comparison of Dulles and Reagan and BWI and provide some ideas about what to think about prior to making your booking for the next trip. We always recommend taking a carry-on backpack to ensure an easy travel experience through any airport.
Washington D.C. International Airports and Codes
This article will review the 3 Washington D.C. airports:
Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Marshall Airport (BWI)
Reagan National Airport (DCA) Convenient, but restricted
One of D.C.’s three airports Reagan National Airport (DCA) is my preferred airport for three reasons.
The closest the closest to Washington D.C.
The easiest access is via public transport
Small but efficient and easy to use
Reagan is nearer than Washington D.C. than Dulles or BWI by a significant distance. While it’s not located within D.C. proper, it’s situated over to the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. It’s easy to access via the shortest and most affordable Uber or taxi ride, or using the Metro that stops directly near the Airport. The Metro operates from 11:00 p.m. during weekdays, and 11:30 a.m. during weekends meaning that even late night passengers can enjoy the ease of trains.
The proximity of DCA to downtown makes it more closely monitored by the U.S. government. While you’re unlikely to notice or feel any difference in the general public and passengers, security for travelers and airlines is much more strict than at other airports in the region. However, this is a positive thing. The strict security rules they enforce along with (mostly) business travelers that use DCA ensures that getting through security quickly as well as the terminal itself well-serviced.
The most significant drawbacks to DCA is that it has only domestic flights (plus some flights of flights to Canada) and is known to higher in cost in comparison to IAD and BWI. If you’re looking to travel to an international location through DCA then you’ll need to transfer, most likely to Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles.
The airport has 95 flight nonstops departing from DCA Airport, it serves many destinations. Most of these are located in the east coast as well as located in midwestern. Many of the direct flights connect to smaller airports, like Chattanooga, Tennessee. You’ll have the most extensive range of routes operated with American Airlines, although United, Alaska, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, and Frontier are also operating from DCA.
Are you trying to travel to get from NYC in NYC DC? Consider taking your bus, instead or Amtrak instead. Between security at the airport and transportation between the airport and home the airport, trains or buses are just as fast, and will take you directly to the center of the city.
Get in touch dcacar.com with when looking for a DCA car service.
Dulles International Airport (IAD) IAD:”The “Big Hub”
To have the best flights and the highest standard of service, Dulles International airport is by far, the most prestigious airport in the region. However, there’s a caveat the airport isn’t that far from D.C.
About 26 miles from the District itself, and over even the farthest metro stations of Northern Virginia, Dulles is close to the rolling agricultural land that lie in Leesburg, Virginia than it is to the capital city of the United States. Depending on which part of the District you wish to go, it takes between 30 minutes and one hour to get to there. Taxi rides can cost you as high as $60 per way.
The public transportation system isn’t great however, but it’s getting better. In 2009 the Metro started construction on the Silver Line to extend metro rail services starting from Northern Virginia suburbs out to the airport. The line is now complete and will be able to carry passengers in 2022. In the meantime it is possible to take a shuttle for $5 from the end of the line in Reston. From D.C. the ride can take around 1 1/2 hours but is much less costly than taxis.
In terms of distance, Dulles is a great airport in all other ways. Although IAD is huge and post-security shuttles may be complicated for those who are new to the airport going from check-in to the gate is quite efficient. The process of clearing customs and security is relatively quick, especially because IAD offers all the expedited customs and security programs Global Entry, CLEAR, and Mobile Passport.
Most importantly, the airport is well-serviced with eateries, shops and other amenities.
If you’re looking on flights for the D.C. area, you’ll get the most flights from IAD, especially with United as IAD is among the United’s hubs. IAD offers the highest number of flights available of those three D.C. airports with nonstop flights to 57 international destinations and more than 81 domestic destinations. Domestic flights are usually less expensive from IAD more than DCA.
If you’re heading to D.C. ensure that you schedule your arrival time to avoid the rush hours, which is around 6:30-9:00 a.m. and 3:00-7 p.m. Every day from Monday until Friday. The traffic flow throughout the DMV is among the worst in the United States I would not wish the prospect of a two-hour drive following an hour-long flight.
Marshall Airport (BWI): Basic but budget-friendly
Traveling to Baltimore to travel towards D.C. may seem counterintuitive however Marshall Airport (BWI) is just under half an hour’s distance away far from Washington D.C. and only 30 minutes away via train. The main advantages of BWI however, are the low cost flights and affordable facilities.
The most efficient way to travel there and back to BWI is via train. To get to Union Station, travelers can take a 20-30-minute Amtrak train for $16plus or 35 minutes MARC train that costs just $7 (one direction). The trains run between 3:00 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. Similar to entering the downtown area of Baltimore by taking the MARC train or an Amtrak train.
Other options for transportation aren’t as efficient or cost-effective. Taxis, Ubers, as well as shuttles can take around one time of about an hour between BWI from downtown D.C. You can expect that a taxi or Uber ride to cost around $40-90, and shuttles for $37 for each person.
In comparison with Reagan in comparison to Reagan and Dulles, BWI has a reputation of being basic and unappreciated. When I visited BWI in 2014, it was grimy and like there was no food options other than fast food.
The good news is that BWI has recently launched the $100 million expansion plan that will provide new dining and services as well as better security and better mobility throughout the terminals. It has witnessed significant improvement. From a gym at the terminal for D/E to more efficient security lines, BWI is getting closer to what it can offer to its Virginian neighbors.
In addition to the latest adjustments, BWI is budget-traveler friendly. They offer day-passes to the lounge costing only $17.50 and a non-premium markup on all beverages and food The flights aren’t expensive, nor the food and drinks at the terminal are expensive at BWI.
Though technically an international one, the majority of the routes operated by BWI are domestic. Eight international destinations are served with non-stop flights.
However, what it is lacking in choices, BWI makes up for in price. The flights from BWI are typically less expensive in comparison to Reagan and Dulles with the budget-friendly Southwest Airlines operating the largest amount of flights that fly to and from BWI. Other budget airlines, Spirit and Iceland’s WOW Air, have direct flights. Meanwhile, larger airlines such as United, American, and Delta offer great deals on their tickets as well.
It’s not possible to take a walk or jog from the BWI station to the airport the way you do at Reagan. It’s offsite. Instead, you’ll get an easy shuttle bus from the station. It’s recommended to plan an additional 10-15 minutes to do this.
DC Airport Summary
Now is the time to make your booking and pack your travel bags.
If you are flying domestically, Reagan (DCA) is the ideal airport for flights if you’re traveling towards Washington D.C. Reagan is the closest airport to D.C. proper (even though it’s technically located in Virginia) It’s small but easy to get around and is easily accessible to D.C.’s subway system.
Dulles (IAD) is known to be the best choice for international flights as it offers more nonstop flights to international routes, and flights from abroad to Reagan could require a layover somewhere else.
Although I generally prefer Reagan due to the fact that it’s the closest and easiest airport to travel to From Washington D.C., I’ll frequently find much cheaper flights from Dulles. Dulles can also be the sole alternative for international flights, and is, despite being big, it’s an efficient and comfortable airfield to maneuver.
BWI is worth it for those who are on the northern part of D.C. or are willing to travel by train to Union Station. There are affordable flights on low-cost airlines from BWI and often is the most affordable option.