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Morning Poll: Is DCA Getting Too Crowded?

by ARLnow.com September 24, 2012 at 10:45 am 5,609 73 Comments

The Washington Post reports that Reagan National Airport, which has recently been adding new flights, is becoming more crowded and less convenient.

In July, there were 75,465 more passengers passing through the airport than the same month one year prior — an increase that has led to longer security lines, according to the Post.

But from a passenger perspective, is the airport really “strained” by the increase, as the article suggests?

  • Ben

    The only thing I’ve noticed is going through security takes about twice as long now. I think that’s mainly due to the scanners and not being over crowded though.

    Also – they always seem to only have one side open…. Never understood that.

  • Brian

    Out of control lately. Flying during the evening ‘rush hour’ 4-7pm, security in the B and C piers used to take 5-10 minutes, now it is upwards of 25 plus. One day it was 45 minutes with the B piers (DL gates)
    That’s not MWAA, that’s TSA and not surprising. The concourses can handle the crowds, except for the US Express bus gate

    • Brian

      That said it is still easier than going to Dulles, esp during the 4-7pm hour which is Europe block over there

    • Fairlington D

      The security wait times have significantly increased. Hard to tell if it’s because of the new scanners, more people using the airport, or a lack of staffing to clear lines during busy times. Back in May, I had a 6am flight on a Saturday. Got to National at 5:05 and almost missed my flight because of the lack of staffing.

      • Brian

        Thats a great point. A few times TSA simply has one line open despite literally hundreds on line. They just don’t care .. .security theater

        • CW

          My experience is that rush hour is when they decide to send EVERYBODY through the full-body scanner…

        • Kate

          It’s TSA. I was in line just this week and the security line took 50 minutes and there were still more people arriving. TSA had two scanners for “regular” people, one for the pre-approved fliers, and one closed scanner. I am a skeptic admittedly but I believe they are allowing security lines to get longer for the purpose of increasing participation on the per-approved program. I would love to see an investigative piece on that and whether legit reasons exist – is it a lack of staffing (uhm, have they seen the unemployment rate), do they not coordinate with the airports to staff based on number of passengers, are they trying to push us to the per-approved lanes?

  • J. Jones

    i’ve seen the biggest impacts when trying to leave Reagan. Cabs/parking/etc are all harder to come across. Add to that the sheer horrible ways cabs are managed there, and it makes me want to *almost* think about using another method of transportation.

    • DarkHeart

      Do you call for your own cab, rather than wait in the taxi line?

      • J. Jones

        I’ve done both. I typically don’t check bags, so don’t typically have a big lead time to call ahead for a cab. Also have been left at the curb by Red Top enough times from a cab that doesn’t come to just hit the line if in doubt. Between that, and the cluster that is “reserved cabs vs for hire cabs” and the tourists trying to take all of them, I’ve come to dread landing at dca.

  • Ballstonian

    I tend to get to the airport pretty early, so as to insulate myself from any problems, but I have noticed that the screening lines are a bit longer.

  • kramva

    I continue to think that DCA is one of the best major market airports in the country – even with slighly longer security times. Particularly (as Brian mentioned) when comparied to Dulles which, while improved, is a monster of an airport that can easily add 15 minutes post security to get to your gate or to ground transportation. I had to use like 6 elevators (up, down, up, down…) to get to the *train* to the main terminal from the commuter flight gates last night with my sleepy kid in a stroller…much less travler friendly than DCA.

    • Ballstonian

      I know its a work in progress, but i find it odd that, if you’re at the C terminal, you have to walk about a quarter mile underground to a random station in the middle of nowhere to catch the train to the other terminals.

      • Hokie

        In the 2020 plan or 2025 or something like that- the lay out that the current, existing C terminal will eventually be demolished. Where the train currently ends is where the new terminal will be.

        • BrianKal

          Dulles C/D was built as a temp facility many, many years ago, so they put the train station where the actual C/D is supposed to be

  • JudyM

    The worst day at DCA is still SO much better than my best experience at Dulles. Not even a comparison…

  • Allie

    I flew this weekend – 8:30pm flight on Friday night, 8pm flight coming back on Sunday. Had no issues whatsoever getting through the airport – arrived at 7:30pm, was through security by 7:45, was boarding by 8. Seamless.

  • grace

    I am unhappy with the increase # of flights I have to listen to between 11 pm and 1 am.

    • TomTom

      don’t live in a city then

      • Meh

        It has gotten louder late at night recently. 2 years ago it was easy to sleep with windows open, but now not so much. But, such is life, and I’ll take the convenience of more flight options at the airport it takes me 5 minutes to get to.

        • Case of the Mondays

          TomTom, why do you (and countless other people on this blog) have to be so rude in the comments section? It’s a matter of tone. Discourse just isn’t possible on this site anymore.

      • bv1

        thats the problem – i dont live in it. i used to. and it was quieter cause the planes dont fly over DC.

    • ArLater

      The nerve of noise in a city. I bet you complain about the constant cars on the road at all hours too.

      • drax

        Give me your address so I can rev my motorcycle outside your door at 3 am.

        • bad comparison…

          People know the distance they live to an airport… your neighbors can change and one might have a motorcycle and one might not, and to compare the situations is silly.

          I’m not saying the “don’t live in a city then” line doesn’t sound rude by the people saying it, but just because its tone is a bit true doesn’t make the statement any less true. People know what they’re moving near and what the distance is to an airport, traffic, etc. They pay to live close to it but don’t want to be bothered by it when they’re not personally using it? Silly and selfish.

          • drax

            But the complaint was about an INCREASE in flights, and therefore noise. Not just the noise that was there when they moved in. Pay attention.

          • grace

            That is exactly my point. The airport is not only getting busier but the planes are getting bigger – more long distance flights. I love having a city airport – I just don’t think it needs to serve transcontinental and international flights.

          • Ballston Resident

            No, planes are not getting bigger. The longer flights use the same size planes that land there on a routine basis.

          • ArLater

            The only international flights are to east coast Canadian cities served by small regional jets. The longer distance across the country flights are not served by larger jets. The same plane going between DCA and LGA (A320 typical-small) is serving DCA-San Diego.

            You and everyone else who thinks across country flights mean bigger planes need to read facts first please.

            While possible for bigger plans like 767 to land at Reagan (see 787 visit), the runways really are too short and not one carrier uses those planes to Reagan.


        • Bring it

          3900 Fairfax Drive

        • Westover

          Since when have planes taken off from DCA at 3am?

          • drax

            What if they started taking off at 3 am? Would you say “don’t complain because you live in a city?” Of course not. Point made.

          • Ballston Resident

            Fantasy Land points don’t count.

          • drax

            The point, which was over your head, is that it’s legitimate to complain when things change sometimes. Saying that “you knew about that when you moved here” doesn’t apply.

          • Ballston Resident

            People ride motorcycles at 3am now. What’s the big deal? Nothing has changed. Your example is terrible.

          • BrianKal

            They do not. Their may be a heavily delayed flight landed that late but it’s once in a blue moon.

            According to the MWAA website, for today the last departure is 10:25 which is a small regional jet to Rochester.

            The latest arrival is 12:55 am on AA from Dallas.

          • BrianKal

            All the evening arrivals in fact past 12am today

            Chicago O Hare American 532 00:05 AM 00:05 AM On Time 30
            Miami American 656 00:15 AM 00:15 AM On Time 32
            Dallas-Ft. Worth American 1088 00:55 AM 00:55 AM On Time 30

    • ATC

      There’s noise abatement procedures in place after 11pm, you must be in what they consider a less populated area. Do you know if they’re typically departing or arriving over your house?

      • Hoffa

        They are supposed to fly over the river, but at least half of them don’t do it and fly over the residential areas of Arlington instead..

        • Ballston Resident

          They are supposed to fly wherever their filed flight plans take them, or as directed by regional approach. Some of those approaches are over residential areas. That’s just the way it goes.

        • NorthArlingTim


          • NorthArlingTim

            I meant that for Hoffa. Planes were not supposed to fly over Colonial Village, for example – CV was there first.

        • Aviator

          They are assigned an approach. Runways have specific flight paths leading up to them which are accurately followed by incoming aircraft. It’s not as if pilots have discretion on the matter and are flying in all willy-nilly.

  • ArLater

    Also, shouldnt all electrical devices be turned off during taxi and takeoff? Looking at you picture taker…


    • drax
      • ArLater

        Thanks, you are still wrong.

        All electronic devices are supposed to be in the OFF position until the airplane is at 10,000 feet. Airplane mode does not equal off. Have a nice Monday.

        • Tre

          Assumes plane is getting ready to take off as opposed to taxing to the gate. The second those tires touch the runway its fair game.

          • Ballston Resident

            Good point. Since the flaps are in the retracted position, it is more likely they just landed.

          • ArLater

            Good call on the flaps. Probably was just landing and in which case Tre is right, cells fully on can be used.

            Regardless, my original comment was a joke which I thought would be evident by the wink face and overall tone. A wise a$$ comment of Airplane mode is just wrong either way. Landed- phones with cell service are allowed. Taking off- everything off.

          • drax

            Yeah, does look like that pic is from a plane on the ground – no restrictions on phones then.

  • Early Traveler

    They tell you to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of your flight– but when people show up at 4 am for a 6 am flight, you sit and wait for TSA to open security at 4:30 am. Then it takes several hours for the back-up to clear itself out. And I’ve never seen all the security lines open at one time, either

    • David

      This is one of my biggest pet peeves about DCA.

  • bv1

    grace and meh are right – the noise has been awful the last few months. It’s as if theyve ignored all the rules or whatever they are. is anyone/group monitoring it?

    • ATC

      Yes, it’s airspace rules that have to be conformed to, governed by the FAA. The pilots don’t chose to fly over specific areas, they get assigned routes. If they/the airlines break it, they risk getting shot down/hassled by controllers/loss of job. There has been an increase since May in flights to/from Reagan, that could be the issue.

      • Hollywood

        Air traffic controllers have the authority to supersede FAA noise abatement regulations.

      • drax

        Sometimes traffic gets backed up and they have to bust the evening restrictions.

  • Autoexec.bat

    It’s been generally a little bit more crowded lately. I took a mid-morning flight on 8/26 (Sunday) and the lines were the worst I’ve ever seen at DCA but generally they’ve just been a bit longer. That said, I love this airport like no other. Even if I start having to show up 90 minutes early instead of 45, I will still go out of my way to use National.

    Long story short: They’ve got to really screw things up before I will go elsewhere and I think alot of people feel the same way.

  • mapchick

    Most of the flights I take go out of the A terminal (yes, I’m cheap, not gonna deny it) and I’ve never had a problem getting through security quickly and to the gate, regardless of the time of day.

  • Janna

    Trying to pick my parents up from a flight coming into Terminal A was crazy a couple weeks ago on a Saturday night. The Cell Phone lot was completely jammed. People were just stopping on the side of the road in any shoulder area they could. Many tried to just sit in front of the terminal and police lost all control of traffic there for a bit. My parents said baggage claim was just a mess.

    My recent flight out of terminal C recently was relatively painless, though.

    • Faye Jissette

      Tell the ‘rents to take metro next time.

      • Janna

        I would, if the metro went to their house, but it doesn’t.

  • Arlingtoner33

    I had a 7:25pm flight at National on Friday and at 6:20pm, took closer to 30min to get through the security at US Airways terminal because they only had ONE TSA agent on duty looking at IDs, even though all the xray lines were open. Was painful for that wait, but still would rather have quick access or metro even to DCA then go to IAD or BWI.

  • Ronnie

    A few months ago I was chatting with an off-duty TSA worker at Dulles and he was saying that staffing is the biggest reason for security delays. Specifically, even when the airports have enough screeners, so many simply don’t show up, or call-in sick, that they are chronically understaffed. The guy claimed something crazy like a 60-70% show-up rate for screeners who are supposed to be working.

    • JohnB2

      It’s not exactly a rewarding job. I can see why it would have a high call-in rate. Everyone in the universe hates you, it’s worse than being a dentist.

  • What time can they start taking off? I thought it was 7 am – but they seem to start earlier.

    • David

      I just had a 6:05AM, I think there are some as early as 5:55 perhaps earlier.

      • thanks for the info David!

        • BrianKal

          If you look at the MWAA website late tonight or early tomorrow it will list all departures. I’d grab the numbers now but it is in afternoon mood.

  • Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

    A 24-hour Noise Complaint Telephone Center operates at Reagan National’s Operations Office. This Center allows citizens to voice their concerns over aircraft noise. The telephone number is 703-417-8020. Usually a duty officer will speak with the caller personally, but if that person is not available, the Center’s voicemail will record the complaint. The Airports Authority’s Noise Abatement staff is also available @ telephone number 417-8745 to discuss noise concerns.

    • bv1

      that complaint center has some nice people who will listen to you and explain whats going on, but there needs to be more enforcement of the noise, cause its out of control lately.

  • Ballston guy

    The last two times I’ve travellled through dca at the 4pm hour, ive gone through security in less than 5mins. Very convenient!!!

  • LuLu

    I sure don’t care if DCA is crowded! I’m not going out to Dulles, and I’m sure as bloody hell not going out to BWI!

  • Mc

    So you are the one annoying countless people with your noisy stupid engine. Some of us moved to a urban environment to avoid lawn mowers, leaf blowers and unmuffled gas engines. We need better noise ordinances to regulate motorcycle noise.


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