Travel

Your Guide to Washington, DC-Area Airports

Sure, everyone loves to hate on the airlines, but we think it’s pretty great to live in a region with three—three!—choices for flying in and out. Before splitting for the holidays, here’s everything you need to know about them.
Your Guide to Washington, DC-Area Airports
Photo by Getty Images.

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.

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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.

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Staff Writer

Elaina Plott joined Washingtonian in June 2016 as a staff writer. She has written about her past life as an Ann Coulter fangirl, how the Obamas changed Washington, and the rise and fall of Roll Call. She previously covered Congress for National Review. Her writing has appeared in the New York Observer, GQ, and Harper’s Bazaar.

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.

Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.

Editorial Fellow

Zack Bu is an editorial fellow. He graduated from Columbia Journalism School with a concentration in data journalism. He writes and codes and is passionate about combing the two. He’s written for Quartz and Realtor.com.