Which Washington, D.C. Airport Is Best?

Differences Between National, Dulles, and BWI Airports

Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, USA
••• Dulles International Airport. narvikk / Getty Images

The Washington, D.C. area is served by three different airports. Visitors and residents of the Washington, D.C. area may use all of the airports depending on their specific travel needs. Depending on your destination, some airlines may offer better prices from one location than another. You may also find direct flights from one airport and not from another.

Here is a summary of some of the key differences of each airport.

Washington National Airport (DCA)

  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, commonly known as National Airport, is located in Arlington County, Virginia and is the closest airport to downtown Washington, D.C. National Airport is the most convenient of the area airports for visitors staying in the heart of the city and residents who live in the downtown area.
  • The airport is accessible by Metro. Use the Yellow or Blue Lines to take you directly to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Metrorail station. Use the covered walkway to take you into the terminal.
  • During rush hour, congested traffic can make National Airport difficult to get to, especially from the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. When traveling to the airport, be sure to allow plenty of time to arrive at the terminal. Read more about Getting to National Airport.
  • A short runway limits the size of the aircraft that fly in and out of Washington (the largest is a 767), so the airport only offers domestic flights and a few flights to Canada and the Caribbean.
  • Reagan National was among the first airports in the country to debut TSA Pre-Check. This program opens expedited screening lanes to frequent flyers of Delta, Alaska, and US Airways, active members of the U.S. military who show their "CAC" (Common Access Card) at the checkpoint, and passengers enrolled in "Global Entry."

    Dulles International Airport (IAD)

    • Dulles International Airport is located 26 miles from Washington, D.C. in Chantilly, Virginia. The airport is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Washington, D.C. in non-rush hour traffic. The Dulles Airport Access Road makes the airport easy to get to once you get off of I-495.
    • There are plenty of shuttles and taxis to transport visitors around the region. Since Washington, D.C. traffic is often congested, you should plan ahead and avoid flight times near rush hour. Read more about Getting to Dulles Airport.
    • Dulles is the first airport in the country to debut a system that automatically calculates wait times at the security checkpoints and displays them in real time. Since both mezzanines are connected beyond security, passengers have the option to select the line with the shorter wait.
    • Dulles International Airport will be accessible by Metro when the extension of the Silver Line is complete (projected for 2018).

    Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)

    • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, commonly known as BWI Airport, is located south of Baltimore and is convenient to the Maryland suburbs via I-95 and I-295.
    • Southwest Airlines has its own terminal here and offers lots of flights at lower prices than some of its competitors.
    • The MARC and Amtrak train station is nearby offering train service to Union Station in Washington, DC. Read more about Getting to and From BWI.
    • BWI is a test site for the Department of Homeland Security and is used to try out new airport security screening methods. As a result, sometimes the security lines can be quite long, so plan ahead for unexpected delays.