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Dulles Airport – Everything You Need to Know


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Monica Horak

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When most people hustle through an airport, many thoughts may run through their mind. How long will it take to get through security? Will my bag make it to my destination? Where will I grab a snack before spending hours on this flight?!


While these are all valid concerns, knowing a bit more about the airport’s history can make the whole experience a bit more pleasant. One airport that is full of history and very active with community outreach is Dulles Airport. This is one of 3 Washington airports for passengers in the D.C. area and is one of the main options for flights to Washington D.C.


If you’re flying through Dulles, this guide will tell you everything you need to know, and then some. You may learn some fun facts about this historic airport which you can share with your travel companions as you’re rushing to your gate! We also have to commend Dulles for all their special community programs. It turns out that some airports are doing their best to make the travel experience as pleasant as possible!


Dulles Airport History

Dulles Airport at Dusk

Photo by Falkenpost on Pixabay


When passing through Dulles for your flight, you may not realize that this airport has a rich history. Having some knowledge about Dulles Airport history can make a standard day of travel more interesting.


The Origin Of Dulles Airport

Since the 1940s, the main airport of Washington D.C. was the nearby National Airport. However, after World War II the government decided that one airport wasn’t enough. In the late 1950s, the government approved the plans for the new Dulles Airport.


Dulles Airport was designed by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. Construction took 4 years and cost $108.3 million to build. The Dulles project later earned a First Honor Award by the American Institute of Architects. The airport was named after John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959.


When it opened in 1962, Dulles Airport was the first airport in the United States to accommodate commercial jets. This required extra-long runways and enough land buffer to prevent noise issues for local people.


Significant Historical Events

Air France Concorde Jet sitting on display

Photo by Jan Vašek on Pixabay


The first Concorde jets to arrive in America flew into Dulles Airport. Even though the Concorde was eventually retired, this is a proud event in the airport’s history. Actually, there were 2 Concorde jets that arrived in Dulles on the same day. One came from Paris and the other came from London. Amazingly, the flight across the Atlantic took just 3 hours!


Today, Dulles is one of America’s busiest airports. There are over 36 million passengers who travel through Dulles every year. It also serves as an international hub for United Airlines and is considered their ‘Gateway to Europe.’


What Makes Dulles Airport Unique?

People walking through an airport at sunset

Photo by Rudy and Peter Skitterians on Pixabay


There are a few features that made Dulles Airport unique compared with other airports.



The Mobile Lounges

When it first opened in the 1960s, Dulles Airport launched a brand new passenger transport system called Mobile Lounges. These large shuttle vehicles take people from the check-in terminal directly to the planes.


The Mobile Lounge is a 54-foot long, 17-foot high vehicle that can carry over 100 passengers. The main goal is to protect people from harsh weather and jet exhaust. This is important on the American East Coast where the winter weather can be very harsh. It also helps to reduce the walking time in order to make passing through Dulles as simple as possible.


Today, most people can travel within Dulles Airport with the underground Aerotrain. However, the mobile lounges are still used in the international Dulles Airport arrivals terminal. In fact, Dulles has 19 mobile lounges and about 30 ‘plane mates’ still in operation.



Real-Time Waiting Time Information

Dulles was the first airport in the United States to launch a new system that shows security wait times for passengers. They update in real-time and help reduce the uncertainty of passengers. This state-of-the-art system has also helped to reduce the time that people have to spend in security lines because it helps them pick the fastest lane!


Special Events and Tours at Dulles Airport

Kids sitting in a cockpit at Dulles Airport

Photo by Dieter Ugolini on Pixabay


Dulles Airport is also unique because it goes above and beyond to maintain strong relationships with the community. They offer many special events and opportunities to get a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of an airport.



Guided Student Tours

In an effort to increase interest in aviation, Dulles Airport offers student tours which cover different topics:

Safety and Security – This in-depth tour gives a behind the scenes look at the security screening process. Students can even see a demo about the work being done by explosives-sniffing dogs. It’s normally a big hit with curious kids!

Path of a Passenger – This tour covers all the steps that the airport staff takes to get passengers quickly and safely all the way from check in to their seat on the plane. The kids can hear from an airline employee about ticketing, the luggage process, gate assignment process, and more.

Dogs of Dulles – This session gives kids an inside look at the work being done by security dogs in an airport. Kids can watch a demo about how these dogs help find explosives, drugs, and illegal agriculture.

Aviation – This tour is an overview of the aviation sector as well as possible career paths available at an airport. Kids will get to visit the Dulles Airport Operations office and hear from different airport employees about their role.


For young kids who are interested in aviation, taking a tour is a great way to learn more about this exciting field. Dulles even offers the chance to host their birthday party at the airport!



Wings For All Program

Dulles airport offers a program for passengers with special needs called Wings for All. The goal of the program is to reduce the stress of travel for families and people with special needs. Families can walk through a ‘dress rehearsal’ of a typical day of travel. Being able to see the different stages of getting through the airport security and boarding a plane is meant to provide peace of mind. Not only is it incredibly helpful for families, but it has also been revolutionary in informing airport staff on how to better accommodate all passengers.



Aviation Events

Vintage planes on display at an airshow

Photo by Brent Connelly on Pixabay


Dulles Airport hosts many air shows and flyover events. On certain event days, guests can get an up-close look at vintage planes and modern aviation technology.



Plane Pull at Dulles

For 27 years, Dulles Airport has hosted a unique charity event called the Plane Pull. Teams of up to 25 people will try their hardest to pull an 82-ton plane across the finish line. The event raises money for various charities and has collected over 2 million dollars in donations throughout the years.



5K and 10K Races

Dulles is also host to an annual 5K and 10K charity race. The entire airport is shut down for a few hours and the race takes place directly on the airport runways. It’s a unique experience to take part in a race exactly on the spot where huge planes land every day.



Art and Live Performances at Dulles Airport

The airport goes above and beyond for passengers as well, because it is home to art and photography exhibits. Dulles even hosts live musical and dance performances to entertain people who are passing through the airport.


In November, they feature a classical music series. Year-round, there are items on display like tools from the Bronze Age, historically significant aircraft, and modern art sculptures.


Interesting facts about Dulles international airport

Man sitting in an airport watching a plane takeoff at sunset

Photo by Jan Vašek on Pixabay


You may not think that an airport can have many interesting facts, but Dulles proves this wrong! Dulles Airport is full of quirks which make the airport more than just a functional building.

Because it was the first airport designed exclusively to receive commercial jets, most of the airport land is actually empty. The empty fields serve as a sound buffer for the surrounding residents. In fact, the outer edge of the airport must be a minimum of 8000 feet (2.44 km) away from the runways.

The Dulles Airport code is IAD, and you’d be right to wonder where this acronym came from. In fact, the airport code was originally DIA, for Dulles International Airport. However, one of the other Washington airports has the airport code DCA which looked similar to DIA when hand-written. To avoid confusion, they simply changed DIA to IAD!

When the historic Concorde flights took place, there was a strong backlash from the local people. They were very concerned about the extreme noise that happens when the jets break the sound barrier. Local farmers went on strike at Dulles airport on the day of this historical event. One farmer even reported that his goats ran to hide under his tractor because of the noise!

Dulles was built over an existing airport, called Blue Ridge Airport. This former airport was the first official airport in Loudoun Country but only consisted of 2 small grass runways.

The Dulles Airport terminal was the inspiration for the terminal building in Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan.


Dark Events Connected to Dulles Airport

The infamous Unabomber planted a bomb on a plane which was bound for Dulles. Luckily, the trigger mechanism didn’t work properly and everyone survived. However, the plane still filled with smoke and was forced to make an emergency landing at Dulles Airport.

Sadly, Dulles was the point of departure for the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. Today, there is a piece of limestone from the Pentagon on display in the TSA office headquarters in Dulles airport. The piece is meant to inspire the TSA workers that their job is of the highest importance.


Dulles Airport Logistics and Passenger Information

Dulles Airport at Night

Photo by Falkenpost on Pixabay


Now that you’ve learned some interesting facts about Dulles, let’s cover the most important logistics about the airport. This information should help you understand what to expect when you travel through Dulles Airport. After all, most people only go to the airport when they have a plane to catch!



Since its original opening, the airport has expanded to meet the demands of more and more passengers. Dulles quickly became one of the busiest Washington Airports, in part because of their frequent nonstop international routes.


Dulles currently has 135 gates and serves 36 international airline carriers. It operates 67 flights per day to locations around the world.


Dulles Airport Parking

Dulles airport offers many parking options. There are hourly and daily lots, as well as long-term economy parking lots. There are free shuttle buses from the parking lots to the terminals, but be sure to budget extra time. If you are picking someone up at Dulles, you can wait in your car in the free cell phone parking lots.


Shops and Amenities

Dulles Airport has a large amount of space for stores and restaurants. This is especially nice for people who have a longer layover and have to kill time at the airport.


There are more than 100 shops and restaurants within the Dulles Terminal. You can find a large variety of restaurants, duty-free shopping, and luxury brand stores like Burberry, L’Occitane, and Montblanc.


Hotels at Dulles Airport

For business travelers or those with an early-morning flight, there are many hotels located around Dulles airport. There are hotels from most major hotel chains and most offer free transportation to and from Dulles Airport Terminals.


How to Travel Between Washington D.C. and Dulles Airport

Washington D.C. Skyline with Washington monument

Photo by David Mark on Pixabay


Despite having the most number of convenient international flights of all the Washington Airports, getting to Dulles is not convenient. Luckily, the city has plans to fix this soon.


Getting there by car or Taxi

Dulles Airport is about 26 miles away from downtown Washington D.C. which means it should be about a 30-minute drive. However, this can always take longer depending on traffic.


In terms of car or taxi, there are many options. Dulles airport has a taxi stand with a constant supply of taxis for arriving passengers. There is also a Super Shuttle service, but you’ll have to make a reservation in advance. Nowadays, you can also catch an Uber from the Dulles Airport arrivals level.


There is also a large car rental center with nine different rental companies available for passengers.


Getting there by Public Transport

Of all the Washington airports, Dulles is known for being difficult to get to by public transport. However, there are some options. Metrobus offers express bus service between downtown Washington D.C. and Dulles. The bus will take about 75 minutes but may take longer if there is traffic.


Luckily, the city of Washington D.C. is currently working to expand the Silver Line of the Washington Metro. This project will connect the city directly with the airport and will make travel to Dulles airport very easy.