People stand in the main terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport. (Associated Press)

Virginia officials have a problem.

Business is booming at Reagan National Airport so much so that the authority that manages the airport is about to embark on a $1 billion plan to build a new concourse at the airport.

But 30 miles west, the picture isn’t quite so rosy. At Dulles International Airport business is down dramatically, and elected officials and business folks are trying to figure out how to reverse the slide. They blame Congress for part of the mess. For years, the number of flights and the distance they could fly were governed by strict rules. But since 2000, members of Congress have chipped away at those rules so that now it’s possible to fly from National to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Denver.

As a result many travelers are opting to fly out of National. But it’s not just the availability of long-haul flights. Many travelers say they just don’t like Dulles. They say the airport is too big, and the walks are too long. Others say the concourses are shabby. International travelers have complained about long waits at customs (though the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages the airport has installed new systems to help cut wait times).  Here’s a sampling of what some folks say about what bugs them about Dulles.

Airport officials have talked a lot about improving access to the airport, including building the controversial Bi-County Parkway, which would provide another western link to the airport. The second phase of the Silver Line, which includes a stop at Dulles is expected to come on line in 2018. But given this sampling of comments, it’s not just getting TO the airport that’s the problem. It’s getting through it that’s also a challenge. And we can’t forget about flights. Even Scott York, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and a big Dulles booster laments the loss of direct service to Salt Lake City. Others say that cuts in United flights also may be a reason travelers are going elsewhere.

Dulles’s problems didn’t happen overnight, and solutions are likely to involve more than just building a Metro line at the airport or constructing a new roadway.

It’s not all bad news. Airlines such as Frontier and Aer Lingus are expanding flight offerings at Dulles, and MWAA is upgrading shopping and dining offerings. Some folks say there are things they like about Dulles, such as the international arrivals area.

In the end it’ll be up to airport officials to make the airport more attractive by bringing in more airlines, encouraging the airlines that are there to expand their flight offerings and upgrading the terminal and gate areas.


In this video below, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner explains why the health of Dulles Airport is critical to the region.