There are several options for travelers who are arriving in the nation’s capital by plane.
Best DC Area Airports
Washington DC has 3 major airports in the surrounding areas. There are three major airports in close proximity to Washington, D.C.: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
The closest to the city of Washington DC are DCA (just outside the city), and IAD which is about 40 minutes away. Both of these have great public transportation into Washington DC.
BWI is a better choice if are planning to also visit Baltimore. Though BWI is connected to DC by train it is further than the other two airports. If you live in Maryland then BWI may be a good choice depending on what address you are going to.
Another airport that many people do not really consider strongly when planning a trip to DC, is Newark airport. Although it is much farther than the rest, we will go through the pros and cons of flying in and out of Newark if one of the other airports is not an option. Depending on your specific travel needs and where you will be staying when you arrive in DC, one airport may be more convenient than the other.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is one of the three airports serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. It is located in Arlington, Virginia, just 3 miles south of downtown Washington, D.C., making it the closest airport to the capital city.
DCA is extremely convenient if you are staying in Downtown Washington DC or in Arlington, Virginia. If there is no traffic, it is a very quick taxi ride. It is smaller though, so there are not as many dining and food options. Terminal A which primarily serves Southwest airlines has the most limited choices when it comes to dining.
If you do not want to rent a car or take a taxi, then this airport is also very easily accessible by the metro. The Washington Metro system connects the airport to downtown Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas through the Blue and Yellow lines.
Despite its convenient location, the airport’s capacity is limited by its size and restrictions on the number of flights allowed per day. This can result in higher fares and fewer available flights compared to the other two airports serving the area. Contrary to popular belief, Air Force One does not fly out of DCA. It flies out of Andrews Air Force Base. This has little effect on the surrounding airports.
Washington Dulles International Airport
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is one of the three major airports serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Located approximately 26 miles west of downtown Washington, D.C., in Dulles, Virginia, it’s known for its iconic Eero Saarinen-designed main terminal building.
The very recent opening of the Silver Line Extension has made Dulles International even more accessible for so many more travelers. DC’s Silver Line Extension is a new addition to the existing Metrorail system that expands service to Reston, Virginia, and eastern Loudoun County. The extension includes six new stations: Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Loudoun Gateway, Ashburn, and Washington Dulles International Airport. The Silver Line Extension is the largest expansion of the Metrorail system since its inception and aims to provide travelers to the DC area ease of getting around Virginia from Dulles and into DC seamlessly. This is especially great for international traveler’s who fly into IAD and anyone else who doesn’t want to rent a car.
As an international gateway, IAD offers a wide range of flights and serves as a hub for several major airlines, including United Airlines. The airport has five terminals in total, with domestic flights operating from terminals A, B, and C, and international flights primarily from terminals B and D.
Amenities at the airport include a wide variety of dining options, retail shops, charging stations, and lounges. Ground transportation options include rental cars, taxis, ride-sharing services, public buses, and the Silver Line Express shuttle connecting to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is one of the three airports closest to Washington, D.C. Located approximately 32 miles northeast of the city, it serves as a major hub for domestic and some international flights.
The airport is named in honor of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice. It is known for its convenient access and overall affordability compared to the other airports in the region. BWI offers a wide range of airlines, making it appealing to travelers.
Transportation options to and from BWI include train, taxies, shuttle buses and rideshare. The BWI stop on the Amtrak is what you would book if you wanted to take a train from BWI to Washington DC’s Union Station. The train ride is about 30 minutes.
What About Newark Airport?
Although Newark is located in New Jersey, the airport is extremely accessible by train to several other east coast cities. If your trip to Washington DC involves a visit to other cities like New York City, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, flying into Newark may be a fitting option.
Travelers can arrive in Newark which is very close to NYC, and visit New York first. They can then make their way down the east coast to Philadelphia, which is 1.5 hours by Amtrak from NYC. From Philly they can continue on to Baltimore and then end their journey in DC.
Another reason that you may consider Newark airport, is that flights can be significantly cheaper into and out of Newark. There are also many more airlines and non stop destinations from Newark than there are from the DC area airports combined.
Newark airport may not be the best choice for people who are focusing their trip on time in DC, but it could be a good option in select scenarios.
Washington DC VS Washington State
When booking your flight it is important to note that there are two Washingtons in the United States. There are actually many more than two but Washington DC and Washington State are the most well known ones.
For Washington State, the main airport is Seattle whose aiport code is SEA. Be certain when booking your flight that you are indeed flying to the correct Washington.