American flyers, rejoice! The most dreaded gate at DCA is temporarily closing

Apr 30, 2020

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Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has some good news for the few people traveling during the coronavirus pandemic: they will not be flying out of the loathed Gate 35X for the foreseeable future.

The airport is closing the north pier, where 35X is located, in Terminal B/C and moving all American Airlines flights to the terminal’s central pier beginning May 4, the operator of Washington National (DCA) the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) said Thursday. All of American’s flights will depart from gates 23-34 with gates 35-45 shuttered for the foreseeable future.

Located on ground level at Washington National, gate 35X has long been a source of derision for those flying out of the preferred airport for pols and lobbyists in the nation’s capital. Who can forget when Robert Mueller and Donald Trump Jr. were spotted waiting at the gate just feet from each other during the Mueller investigation of President Trump?

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Gate 35X was built for a bygone era of regional flying. When it opened in 1997, US Airways used the gate for its commuter operations that primarily consisted of turboprops that seated between 19 and 37 passengers. Fast forward to today, and the smallest regional jet that American flies to Washington has at least 50 seats.

During normal times, passengers bound for those flights board buses at Gate 35X that then take them to their remotely parked planes. Multiple flights are often called to board buses simultaneously, creating a crowded and — to many — unpleasant process.

John Potter, president and CEO of MWAA, called 35X the airport’s “biggest chokepoint” when work to replace it began in 2017.

Related: American has ‘no plans’ to close hubs when it shrinks post-coronavirus

The latest update from MWAA shows the new 14-gate concourse that will replace Gate 35X opening on schedule in July 2021. American, which will use the concourse, will be able to fitting out the concourse — including building a new Admirals Club — at the beginning of 2021.

The rapid decline in passenger numbers during the pandemic has, as yet, not changed the timeline for the new concourse, according to MWAA. The same is true for the new consolidated security checkpoints, due to open more than six months late in the final quarter of 2021, that are also part of the $1 billion Project Journey works.

Operating all of American’s flights from the central pier at Washington National should impact few travelers. The airline will fly up to 31 flights a day from the airport — none of which are on the 50-seat jets that operate from 35X — in May, according to Cirium schedules. This compares to an average of 228 flights a day last year.

Related: American Airlines removing 41 small jets that won’t fly again after the pandemic

JetBlue Airways, the only other tenant in National’s central pier, plans just two flights a day from the airport in May.

Washington National has not released traffic numbers for March, the first month effected by the pandemic, but passengers were up 6.7% year-over-year to 1.8 million in February.

Nationally, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 119,629 people on April 29, just 5% of the number a year ago.

Related: It may be years until passenger demand returns to 2019 levels for US airlines

Featured image by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

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