Ode to a convenient airport
I wonder if my fellow D.C. residents really appreciate Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
I spent the holiday weekend in Dallas, home of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the most expansive air-transport hubs in the world. My flight left Reagan at eight-thirty Saturday morning and arrived at DFW about three hours later. A more telling study in contrasts, I couldn’t imagine.
Reagan isn’t a tiny airport; with three concourses, it handles a significant amount of traffic into and out of the D.C. metro area. But as airports go, it’s remarkably easy to get into and out of, whether by car or train. From the Metro to your gate — if we ignore the logistical nightmare that is TSA screening — is a five-minute walk. Six if you stop for coffee.
DFW, on the other hand, was seemingly built to be as difficult to get into and out of as possible. The drive from the airport boundary to your terminal can be as long as ten minutes. That presumes, of course, that you’ve identified in advance from which of the airport’s five massive terminals your flight is departing. If you’re flying on American Airlines — DFW is American’s hub, so if you’re flying out of that airport odds are you’re on that airline — your flight could be departing from any of three terminals. Forget to check in advance via phone or the Web? You’re out of luck. The large, illuminated signs at the airport entrance that once announced, Burma-Shave-style, departing gates by flight number, were dismantled years ago. Seems they were causing too many accidents.
So let’s say you did your homework and you know from which terminal your flight is departing. You next must deal with the problem of parking. Here’s everything you need to know about parking at DFW: There’s no parking at DFW. Seriously. Just leaving for the day? Tough. You’ve gotta park in the remote, long-term lot because there are no open spaces in the garage. Sure, the parking rate is cheaper out in the sticks, but taking the shuttle bus from long-term parking to the terminal adds as much as twenty or thirty minutes to your trip.
But let’s say instead of departing from DFW, you’re arriving. Say you flew into DFW and, foolishly, checked a bag. What greets you when you arrive in the Lone Star State is the hell-on-Earth that is DFW baggage claim.
You’re going to think I’m exaggerating. When I say this, you’re going to thing I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. When claiming checked bags at DFW, waits at the carousel of an hour or more are not unheard of. Seriously. The problem is one of simple geography. DFW is so vast that shuttling your Samsonite from tarmac to terminal can take thirty or even forty-five minutes. By the time your luggage hits the carousel, your trip is half over.
One of the most trivial but widely felt effects of 9/11 is that air travel has become, and will continue to be, a frustrating ordeal. But we D.C.-area residents have it lucky. Compared to a baffling and infuriating airport like DFW, Reagan is like sweet tea in the summertime.