Washington’s DCA airport shows off final step ahead of major transformation

Nov 9, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is one of the most paradoxical airports in the country when it comes to convenience. On the one hand, it’s located incredibly close to central Washington, D.C., making commutes and trips to the capital incredibly easy and cutting airport transport time significantly.

On the other hand, navigating the airport when you have a connection can be incredibly aggravating. Several different sets of gates are separated into concourses that protrude off of one shared ground-side hallway, but each has its own security checkpoint. That means that if you’re at Gate 29 but need to get to Gate 35, you either have to queue up for a bus between the piers or leave the secure area and go back through another checkpoint.

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But not anymore.

DCA on Tuesday officially reached the end of “Project Journey,” a years-long effort to modernize and reconfigure the capital city’s hub.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

As part of the project, the airport planned to get rid of the notorious Gate 35X, open a new concourse with new gates to replace it, and bring the entirety of National Hall — that shared hallway — inside the security perimeter. That will allow air-side passengers to come and go from different gates and concourse areas as they please, also allowing them to visit the restaurants and shops in the hall without having to worry about making it back to their gate through the checkpoint in time.

Those first two steps were completed earlier this year. As of today, new security checkpoints began operation and brought the project to its end.

Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) officials held a commemoration and ribbon-cutting last month for the recently completed new security checkpoints, the final major step towards moving the perimeter and making the airport more accessible.

There’s a clear need for the project, and it’s not just the convenience of transferring at different gates. Adding the new gates and concourse and making them easy to access was vital.

More: Farewell to the misery of Gate 35X, the only thing everyone in Washington could agree on

“It was designed to accommodate 15 million passengers a year,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) at the ribbon-cutting event. “By 2019, it had gone from 15 million to 24 million passengers.”

The frustration and missed potential regarding convenience at the airport was obvious to everyone at the ribbon-cutting, as everyone from the mayor of D.C., the governor of Virginia, members of Congress, and the heads of the FAA and TSA.

Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

“When people come to Washington, they expect the best of the best,” Washington mayor Muriel Bowser said. “I am thrilled that the reimagining of the hall puts the D.C. experience front and center.”

Steve Dickson, head of the FAA, said that modernizing U.S. airports was critical — and linked it to the pending bipartisan infrastructure bill.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

“The FAA is certainly committed to supporting the modernization of our nation’s airports, and indeed our airport and aviation system, big, small, urban, and rural airports,” Dickson said. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill includes $25 billion for airports and air traffic control, so we’re excited to see that come to fruition.” [Ed. note: the infrastructure bill was passed by the House earlier this month.]

Future site of the new Admirals Club at DCA. Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy.

The new concourse that replaced Gate 35X, which is already in use, adds 14 gates and will house a new Admirals Club, which is still under construction.

Featured photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy.

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