Washington’s first major airport was no place you’d want to fly. Called Hoover Field, it opened in 1926 on the future site of the Pentagon—a perilous location with numerous obstructions (including a roller coaster) and a trash fire that burned constantly at a nearby dump.
To the relief of what was still a tiny population of local fliers, its replacement, National Airport, opened at Gravelly Point in 1941. Nine years later, Baltimore also had a new airport, Friendship International, with a cocktail lounge and a beauty shop—amenities for an era when air travel was an upper-class pursuit. But before long, more people were flying and planes were bigger. In 1962, Dulles Airport opened, the first US airport designed for large commercial jets.
The decades since have seen big changes—new airport names, new security lines, hundreds of thousands of new passengers. You may not be able to escape baggage fees, but nonstop flights to Beijing leave Dulles 11 times a week. Washington is one of the very few, very lucky places with three major airports. So next time you’re fuming over a delay, remember that it could always be worse. You could have to fly through a trash fire—and have no choice about it.
To read more about DC airports, choose from the links below to stories about travel hacks, how to kill time in the terminals, the future of airports, and much more—all from our November 2016 issue of Washingtonian.