What’s worse than an apparent awkward airport moment — like Friday’s near run-in of Donald Trump Jr. and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the guy who was hired to conduct a federal investigation related to his father’s presidential campaign?
An awkward moment at Reagan National Airport’s hated Gate 35X.
It’s cramped. It’s depressing. It’s a glorified livestock pen for unlucky travelers who must wait inside the ground-floor holding area to board a shuttle bus that will ferry them onto the tarmac and to their awaiting plane.
CNN political reporter MJ Lee may have summarized it best Friday afternoon, as she described the apparent travel coincidence: “I do not like that gate. Nobody likes that gate.”
On Friday afternoon, Politico published a signature “spotted” snapshot, showing Mueller and Trump Jr. both waiting at the dreaded gate. In the photo, Mueller is sitting, reading a newspaper, while Trump, in a green shirt and camouflage baseball cap, stands against the wall, talking on the phone.
Mueller’s office confirmed that it is in fact the special counsel in the photo.
“That is him, waiting to board a flight,” a spokesman for the special counsel said. “If it’s accurate that the other person in the photo was Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Mueller was not aware of him and had no interaction with him.”
Politico Playbook co-author Jake Sherman posted another photo from aboard the plane for anyone who questioned if it was indeed Trump.
For Washington denizens, the photo isn’t just entertaining because of the only-in-the-nation’s-capital serendipity. For a moment, we could relate to these two figures central to the nation’s ongoing political drama, both stuck at the worst airport gate.
Gate 35X has long been a source of frustration and dismay for the region’s travelers.
Because of overcrowding at Reagan National Airport and a shortage of space for incoming flights, shuttle buses have been used to drive passengers to one of the 14 boarding areas that are not connected to the terminal.
The unlucky passengers whose flights are assigned to 35X — 1.2 million people per year, according to airport officials — must enter Terminal C, go down an escalator, then wait in a dimly lit holding area with low ceilings, where they are eventually ushered through one of five doors to be driven out to their flight.
An ongoing construction project at Reagan National will eliminate the notorious gate. According to current plans, Gate 35X will be replaced by a new 14-gate concourse on the north side of the airport. It’s supposed to be airier, classier, filled with more shops and better dining options — and there will be no miserable ground-floor annex gate.
The project is scheduled to be finished by 2021. But until then, passengers stuck at Gate 35X like Mueller and Trump will just have to find comfort in their shared sense of misery.
As James Fallows, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, tweeted: “If you’ve been to Gate 35X at DCA, you realize that these two opposing figures were momentarily unified by a greater common enemy, namely 35X.”