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.

24 Comments so far

  1. Chris (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

    Betraying your newness to the area! (or republican leanings :-))

    I still can’t call it r—-n. Yuck. It will always be national to me.

  2. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

    It’s still its proper name, Chris…

  3. Jenn L (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

    Jeff, you are so right. DFW is a nightmare. I can’t stand those large airports where you wander around, trapped, with no natural light. and the baggage claims!! Crazy. DCA is beautiful, especially the new terminal with its expansive windows.

    Tom, considering “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport” is the “proper name” – then both “Reagan” and “National” are correct nicknames, as both are contained in the title. (That way, we can all get along…)

    But I agree with Chris, whenever I hear someone say “Reagan” instead of “National,” I make the assumption that they haven’t lived here long or are an acolyte of the late President. My own prejudice, of course. Note I still stubbornly say “the new terminal” when it hasn’t been new for quite a while!

    But for myself, I prefer saying “DCA” – it’s catchier.

  4. tj (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 8:48 pm

    i love flying in/out of national. heck, even dulles is almost too big … and that’s still a reasonably small airport compared to many.

  5. chris (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 8:52 pm

    I think National is still a proper name for it. After all, its name is “Ronald Reagan Washington NATIONAL Airport” Who have you heard calling BWI “Marshall”?

    DCA is cool although it doesn’t roll off the tongue like BWI.

  6. Chris (unregistered) on April 19th, 2006 @ 8:53 pm

    I just moved to the DC area from Dallas. I would agree, and I think most people in Dallas would agree (except maybe the AA employees). DFW is such a pain in the a$$. My first time taking the metro to “Reagan”, I was amazed. Convenient and fast.

    Love field is so much more convenient being downtown Dallas, but its quite a bit smaller, and most people only fly Southwest out of that airport. There is currently a big fight going on regarding the Wright amendment and allowing Southwest to fly to more places (currently only to neighboring states).

    Back to DFW, I reiterate, it is horrible. Whenever I would plan a trip, I would at least add an hour to the return time due to the items you mentioned, waiting forever for luggage, waiting for the remote shuttle to arrive, then driving to Dallas.

  7. wayan (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 9:15 am

    1. Never, ever, even on the pain of death, check baggage – if you need to check, you’re traveling with too much stuff, and you have no clue how to pack

    2. Till death has its icy grip on my heart, it will be National airport. DCA if I wanna show my travel creds.

    3.With the exception of the old Hong Kong airport, none in my worldly travels is as convenient & close to the city as National – best yet, no car needed!

  8. phoenix (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 9:34 am

    It’s National, dammit.

    Proper name or no, I refuse (and to my knowledge, very few people around here will) call it Reagan National. :(

  9. Jeff Harrell (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 9:48 am

    I’ve lived here for about seven weeks. I’ve flown in and out of that airport three times now. Until today, not a single time have I heard anybody call it “National.”

    I think “very few people around here” is overstating the case significantly.

  10. phoenix (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 10:09 am

    Fair enough, Jeff-perhaps I’ve fallen victim to the hyperbole monster; but sheesh-I remember when it was just National, before it was “Reagan National,” and how much resistance there was by people on the street to the name change.

    I remember the local news stories with disapproving DC Residents complaining about the name, saying it’d always be National to them.

    So forgive my elitism, but I have to say that you’re fully inducted into the DC fold when you’ve heard that argument at least once; so a belated welcome to you!

  11. Will (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 10:35 am

    The only thing I have to add to this is that I will never, ever fly out of Terminal A in the middle of the day again.

    Since Terminal A is the terminal that time forgot, and the shuttles are remarkably sparse going there, the walk from the Metro to Terminal A is a good 15 minutes, longer if you have a lot of luggage.

    It’s not the worst airport experience I’ve ever had (no, that was being transferred to Louisville on my way to Atlanta and being stuck there for five hours), but it was close, considering I was running late and travelling with a pet.

  12. Don (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 11:33 am

    Never, ever, even on the pain of death, check baggage

    Barf, I wouldn’t have figured you for One Of Them, Wayan. If I wanted to schlep my own luggage I’d have driven. The fact that someone will take away my bigger and heavier luggage and make it Not My Problem till I get where I’m going is one of the things I continue to like about air travel. I’m disappointed to discover you’re one of those people lugging their marginally small-enough bag through the cabin and making entrance and exit harder and slower.

  13. jen m. (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

    i’m with chris, it’s “national airport” always. everyone *i* know from DC calls it that, but maybe it’s a republican thing to call it by the R-word. after what ron did to the air traffic controllers, it makes me puke in my mouth a little to even think about calling any airport by his name.

    by the way, i love that scene in the simpsons when the republican cabal discusses their ongoing conspiracy to name everything after reagan. hi-larious.

  14. Jeff Harrell (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

    You mean what the air-traffic controllers did to themselves by calling an illegal strike and attempting to hold the entire country’s air traffic system hostage? Yeah, real shame that was.

  15. wayan (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

    I am one of those people who can travel for a week or a year with just a carry-on sized bag. I am that efficient and experienced with this new-fangled air-travel.

    It is you dear sir, with your elephantine suitcase (please tell me it has wheels at least) that continue to clog our airplanes, airports, and feeder transport, making any egress cumbersome, check-in desks inaccessible, and contribute to airline bankruptcies, global warming, and the senseless death of baby Samsonites for your luggage skin.

  16. Don (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

    The thing that’s the most amazing about that Simpson’s joke is that it wrote itself. The Reagan Legacy Project is a non-profit with one purpose:

    “The mission of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project is to honor the legacy of our 40th president, Ronald Reagan. The Reagan Legacy Project aims to fulfill its mission by naming significant public landmarks after President Reagan in the 50 states and over 3,000 counties of the United States, as well as in formerly communist countries across the world.”

    The comedy in that the RRLP wants to rename existing places and locations – something that has a notable cost in replacing signs and other graphic collateral – is a project of the Americans for Tax Reform, well, that’s probably too subtle for TV.

  17. Don (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

    Oh and as far as what the ATC’s “did to themselves,” I assume you mean the action that followed their pointing out to the FAA that staffing levels were below the FAA’s own guidelines?

    In fairness to the FAA though, they didn’t respond by ignoring the guidelines – as they did the result of the Rose Report, which they themselves commissioned and paid for – they just redefined them so they were within compliance.

  18. phoenix (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

    Well, I guess we know Jeff’s political leanings now!

    Ah, DC-we live, eat, drink, and breathe politics. Can’t even talk about an airport without getting into a politicial discussion (I’m not complaining, I know I was right in there) but that’s one reason I love this city. I can insist on calling it “National,” but the guy next door will be insulted if I don’t call it “Reagan National.” Good times.

    For record, I still don’t know ANYONE who calls it “Regan National” unless they’re giving me a traffic report, are new to town, or just love them some Ronnie. But you meet new people every day! :)

  19. Don (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

    I’m about 50-50, calling it Reagan and National interchangeably, though I fit the profile mentioned above. It’s had Reagan’s name as long as I’ve been a resident here but I have flown ina nd out of it more when it went as National.

    I sympathize with some people’s refusal to go along with the name change – when the various corporate overlords renamed the stadium in Miami I refused to stop calling it “Joe Robbie” in favor of the much inferior “Pro Player.” You want to ditch the name of a beloved local figure so you can name it after UNDERPANTS?

    Once something is an institution I’m not much in favor of renaming it, regardless of political ideology. The whole reason we give things names is so we have a consistency of reference.

  20. wayan (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

    I remember back when the change happened, METRO refused to change the stop for years – the Rep for Arlington was a Dem, right? Congress had to add a specific line into some budget to get them to change it.

    I still am searching for a pre-name change Metrorail map as a present for a friend.

  21. phoenix (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

    @Wayan: If you find that map, I DEFINITELY wanna see it! :)

  22. Don (unregistered) on April 20th, 2006 @ 6:18 pm

    From http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_15_17/ai_74011902

    “When the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the capital’s subway system, recently changed all its route signs, it neglected to change “Washington National Airport” to “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport,” even though extensive changes were made to the names of many other Metro stations.

    When inquiries were made, WMATA merely replied that the local jurisdiction in Alexandria, Va., where the airport is located, had not requested the change.”

  23. darpino (unregistered) on April 21st, 2006 @ 4:34 pm

    This is an amusing thread.

    It’s National to me, not due to politics but out of the habit of calling it that after living here for so many years. Just as I still call the ‘Verizon’ Center the MCI Center out of habit and probably always will.

  24. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on April 23rd, 2006 @ 1:00 am

    I definitely agree, Darpino, It’s always been National to me, and will continue to be that way. The same way it’s the MCI Center to me. The same it’s the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum to me. The same way they’re secretly the Bullets to me…

    Some name changes are just silly.

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