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Best Washington Airport To Fly Into

author
Brent Mccoy
• Sunday, 03 January, 2021
• 9 min read

While for the majority of travelers that answer holds true, DC’s other area airports also offer distinct benefits and advantages you should take note of before ticketing your trip the nation’s capital. Here’s a breakdown of Washington DC’s three commercial airport options and how they stack up against each other in terms of airline networks, transportation, location, and overall offerings.

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Contents

Linked by a dedicated Metro station, out of the three area airports DCA provides the cheapest and easiest connections to the city center and popular tourist attractions. National is largely limited by a perimeter rule on nonstop flight destinations, meaning most cross-country and almost all international air traffic (over 1,250 miles) is directed through its bigger brother Dulles (IAD).

American Airlines holds a firm grip on most of the movement through DCA, however, recently competitors like JetBlue and Southwest are ramping up presence at the airport and wrestling over departure slots whenever they become available. This has reduced National’s once overpriced fares to regularly match lower sale prices from the two other area airports.

Now with more competitive fares and its convenience factor, DCA is the top choice for domestic flyers arriving in Washington from East Coast and Midwest markets. Fares are based on distance traveled, but for most arriving at DCA who wish to visit the city's' main attractions should expect to pay 2-3 dollars.

Since the airport is just a bridge crossing away over the Potomac River, most rides to National Mall area should take about 15 minutes or so, unless of course your smack dab in the middle of rush hour in which you should investigate how close your destination is to a Metro station. For those who prefer chatting with a taxi driver and hearing some insider tips, tack on a few more dollars to your fare than taking a ride-sharing car.

Shared shuttle bus services from companies like SuperShuttle are also available at National, but one-way costs mirror those of taxis and Uber. So unless for some reason you enjoy waiting around while other travelers get picked up and dropped off it’s probably not your top option unless it’s offered as a free service by your hotel.

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Located 26 miles west of downtown, sometimes transiting from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) to the center of DC especially during peak times can feel longer than a senior senator’s filibuster. Serving as a key hub for United Airlines and offering the most international flights out of all the area airports, Dulles is a major player when it comes to East Coast air traffic.

While improvements are currently underway, the best options still remain ride-sharing apps and taxis, which can be costly and downright chaotic depending on your arrival/departure times. While the airport doesn't have a direct Airdrie or subway link, it does offer bus service to the somewhat nearby Wiehle-Reston East Silver Line Metro Station.

A smooth taxi ride from Dulles to DC should run you around $70, but that’s rarely the case, expect to pay more and with tip included you could be upwards of $85 to reach downtown. At less than half the price of a taxi and removing the hassle of switching trains while schlepping luggage, a shuttle bus is a reliable alternative to reach the heart of DC.

Roughly a similar distance as Dulles from the district, BWI is located about 30 miles northeast from downtown Washington. The patchwork of highways sprawling between Baltimore and Washington can be a nightmare for those taking to the road, especially out-of-towners, so rely on the rail link to the city if you’re flying into BWI.

Southwest leads the charge at BWI with its own terminal and with the carrier's constant fare sales, Baltimore- Washington benefits as an excellent budget-friendly base for those travelers looking for a flight deal to DC. Amtrak trains run about 10-minutes faster getting you to Union Station in around 25ish minutes but can be costly if purchased last-minute, buying in advance can save you a bit, so long as you’re confident your plane will arrive on time.

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Set rates come in handy, so you know what you'll be paying upfront unlike a taxi or peak fare gauging by ride-share alternatives. Featured image by Hang Dish / shutterstock.com All products and services mentioned on Airfare watchdog are independently selected by our team of expert travelers.

A hub for United, the massive airport serves not just as an origin or final destination but also caters to connections. United and its partners fly to a number of high-profile international services including Accra, Johannesburg, Beijing, Munich, Istanbul, Lisbon, Zurich and Tokyo among others.

However, passengers can also catch a flight on Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, KLM, and Emirates among many other choices. Photo: United Airlines In terms of international connections, Washington -Dulles is the best Washington area airport.

Reagan National is the smallest, but the best for proximity to the capital, of all three Washington area airports. Photo: Ron Cog swell via Flickr Those who may be enticed by the airport’s close location to the capital, however, will also have to contend with route restrictions.

Barring a few exemptions, air service is not allowed to exceed a distance of 1,250 statute miles from the airport. However, there are exceptions for service to the following cities: Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon according to the official Reagan National website.

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Rendering created at Great Circle Mapper BWI is the main airport for Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: James G. Howe's via Wikimedia Commons However, Southwest Airlines operates a major hub at the airport.

This may be a huge plus for family travelers who would want to take advantage of the airline’s generous checked baggage policy. The airport is a major hub for Star Alliance carriers but also sees service from a number of other airlines.

And, BWI is a great option for passengers who wish to fly Southwest as it is a similar distance from the capital as IAD. With nonstop service to a number of domestic and international destinations, BWI is also an option to look at.

Cited by TIME and Intelligent Aerospace, among others, and interviewed by major outlet NPR, Jay’s focus on route planning and fleet developments allow him to dig deeper into the stories behind the headlines. Each airport is slightly different and varies in how close they are to D.C., flight availability, and in-terminal amenities.

If you’re planning a trip to Washington D.C. or the surrounding area, I’ll break down which airport you should fly into with a comparison of Dulles, vs Reagan, vs BWI, and give tips on what to consider before booking your next flight. This makes it easy to get to by a short and reasonably priced taxi/Uber ride or via the Metro, which stops directly at the airport.

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With 95 nonstop flights operating out DCA, it services a lot of destinations, most of which are clustered on the east coast and in the Midwest. Quite a few of the direct flights fly into smaller airports (i.e. Chattanooga, TN) on the east coast.

You’ll find the widest selection of routes served by American Airlines, although United, Alaska, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, and Frontier also operate out of DCA. In terms of flight options and overall airport quality, Dulles International is, by far, the best airport in the area.

Depending on where in the District you want to go, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to drive in, and a taxi ride can cost as much as $60 one way. In 2009, the Metro began construction on a Silver Line to extend metro rail access from the Northern Virginia ‘burbs out to the airport.

It may seem counterintuitive to fly into Baltimore for a trip to D.C., but Marshall Airport, BWI is less than an hour drive from Washington D.C., and even closer by train (about 30 minutes). The real winning aspects of BWI, though, are the cheap flights and budget friendly amenities.

With day passes to their lounge an affordable $17.50, and a no premium markup for all food and drinks, neither the flights nor the in-terminal treats will break the bank at BWI. For domestic flights, Reagan (DCA) is the best airport to fly into when traveling to Washington D.C. It’s the closest airport to D.C. proper (even though it’s technically in Virginia), small and easy to navigate, and has easy access to D.C.’s metro system.

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BWI is only worth it if you’re coming from the north side of D.C. or are willing to catch a train from Union Station. Happily, you can find some cheap flights on budget airlines from BWI, and it often wins in terms of affordability.

She now lives in San Francisco with her husband where she splits her time between traveling, adventuring outdoors, and cooking (okay, eating). Here are quick answers to common questions around flying into Washington, D.C. My wife and I have been offering advice on the best airports in Washington, D.C. for years.

We can help you weigh the pros and cons of utilizing DCA, BWI, or Dulles International Airport. Generally speaking when you compare Reagan National (DCA) vs. Dulles vs. BWI most travelers will prefer to fly into DCA because it is the closest to the National Mall, Arlington, and downtown Washington, D.C. Often travelers will find that flying into Washington, D.C. through Dulles or BWI is cheaper.

If you’re flying to either of those airports keep in mind it will take on average an hour to get into Washington, D.C. There are three airports close to Washington, D.C. It's common for travelers to utilize DCA, Dulles and BWI when flying into Washington, D.C. Dulles and BWI are in the greater Washington, D.C. area and take about an hour to commute into downtown D.C.

DCA is the best airport for flying into Washington, D.C. assuming plane tickets are equal at all three airports. If you’re staying in Northeastern D.C. suburbs flying into Baltimore/ Washington International Airport (BWI) is more convenient.

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For travelers who will be staying in Western Virginia suburbs Dulles International Airport (IAD) is the best option. The Pentagon is 2 Metro stops away from DCA and only 10 minutes via a cab or car.

This is a bus that runs continuously between the Reston Metro station and Dulles Airport. On the Metro it only takes about 20 minutes to get to either downtown Washington, D.C. or the National Mall.

Reagan National Airport is located in Arlington, VA across the river from Washington, D.C. The 5A express bus route connects Dulles with Roslyn and L’Enfant Plaza on the National Mall.

Depending on the traffic anticipate spending between 30 and 45 minutes on the bus to get to either Roslyn or L’Enfant. For now Dulles is connected to the Metro via the Silver Line connector bus.

This is a bus that runs continuously between the Reston Metro station and Dulles Airport. BWI is located 45 minutes northeast of Washington, D.C. off I-95 and along the MARC train system.

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The most efficient method to get from BWI to D.C. is by taking the MARC commuter train into Union Station. Anticipate spending at least one and a half hours to commute from the BWI airport into downtown DC.

From that point forward you can use the MARC to ride into downtown Washington, D.C. at Union Station, or get off at New Carrollton. There are two express bus routes that connect BWI to Washington, DC.

These two routes are the 201 which connects the BWI terminal with the Shady Grove D.C. Metro station. The best airport for flying into Washington, D.C. for families with kids will be DCA because it offers the most nearby hotel options that have a shuttle from the Airport.

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