Yes, congestion is bad. But is it so bad that we need a direct flight from Dulles to National?
As some travelers learned Monday, the trip by air can be just as hectic.
A Southwest Airlines flight bound for National from Dallas Love Field was diverted to Dulles on Monday night because of the heavy rains that pummeled the Washington region. The plane circled over West Virginia as the storms hit, but as fuel started to run low, one passenger recounted, air traffic control sent the flight to Dulles.
That was the beginning of a 2½-hour journey that turned a Boeing 737 into an airport shuttle, ferrying passengers from one D.C. airport to another.
When all was said and done, some passengers who arrived at Dulles about 7 p.m. disembarked around 9:30 p.m. at National — 23 miles away.
Here’s what happened.
According to passenger Pam Krieger, who lives in Alexandria but was visiting family in Dallas, the plane took off from Love Field shortly after 2 p.m. Monday and was scheduled to land at National about 6 p.m. Toward the end of the trip, storms forced the crew to begin circling over West Virginia.
Short on fuel, the plane was diverted to Dulles, where it landed about 7 p.m. At that point, Krieger said, passengers were told to stay on board. Some protested.
“They were originally not going to let people get off the plane at all until enough people asked,” Krieger wrote in recounting the events.
The flight crew relented and allowed those with carry-on bags to disembark. About half the passengers got off.
Krieger, who had checked her two bags, was not among them, leaving her “no choice but to sit on the plane.” Passengers were incredulous: Why couldn’t they just get off at Dulles and figure out the rest from there?
Amid the two-hour wait, Krieger found an apparent explanation. She said a flight attendant told her and others aboard the plane’s final leg would be from National to Milwaukee, so the plane needed to complete its trip.
The prompted her to file a complaint with Southwest.
“I understand that we couldn’t land at DCA initially due to weather,” she wrote. “That makes sense. Having passengers sit on the plane for 2+ hours because it HAS to get to DCA at the expense of the passengers doesn’t make sense. It was a poor decision that could’ve been avoided.”
Southwest confirmed the flight diverted to Dulles because of bad weather before ultimately landing at National about 9:30 p.m. The airline said it eventually provided $100 flight vouchers to all passengers who were aboard — including those who got off at Dulles.
In a tweet to Krieger, the airline apologized for the “less than stellar experience” and said it was simply following safety protocol. “We understand your frustration, Pam. We’re sorry if we let you down yesterday.”
At Dulles, passengers awaited a new crew, who arrived about an hour and a half after the initial landing. After some delays on the tarmac because of — you guessed it — “congestion” at National, the plane took off at 9:01 p.m., according to the flight-tracking site FlightAware.
Once airborne, however, the flight was pretty painless. The plane cruised at a top speed of 297 mph as it wove a path from Woodbridge back toward Montgomery County and finally to National. All in all, the flight took about 22 minutes, according to FlightAware. For now, at least, it is the fastest way between the two airports.
Tuesday morning, Krieger received her $100 flight voucher from Southwest. And she has been telling the story ever since, to the amusement of her friends.
“Congrats on being the first person I ever met who got to fly from IAD to DCA,” said one of them, according to Kreiger. “That’s amazing.”