A Upcoming Death in the Dulles Family

IAD - Washington/Dulles

Speaking of Eero Saarinen-designed terminals . . . let’s check in on Washington/Dulles. When was I speaking about Sarrinen terminals, you ask? Well, both JFK’s terminal 5 (from yesterday’s post) and the main terminal at Dulles were designed by Saarinen. Unfortunately, he died in 1961, a year before both structures opened to passengers.

Had Saarinen been around long enough to actually try flying out of Dulles, he would probably have quickly learned what a painful place it can be. Why is it so painful?

The mobile lounge.

Back in the day, the idea was an interesting one. You would check in for your flight and then wait to have a mobile lounge take you directly to your plane. Unfortunately, it’s not as idyllic as it sounds. The mobile lounges create a lot of ground traffic, and if there was one lounge per plane, it would be like rush hour gridlock on the beltway. So, back in the mid-1980’s, they built the first of the “temporary” midfield concourses. More than 20 years later, that temporary building is still there.

Now, you hop on a mobile lounge and wait for what seems like an eternity (but is probably only 2 minutes). Finally, they drive you over to the midfield concourse and then you hop off to find your gate, which could be quite a ways away. Fortunately, the death of the mobile lounge is coming in 2009 with the opening of the AeroTrain.

07_05_30 iadmobile

They’ve been working on a big Dulles enhancement program in recent years, and it’s a welcome undertaking. If you’d like to read about everything they’re doing/have done, click here.

The most important enhancements that have yet to be finished are:

  • A new runway to increase capacity
  • A new, permanent midfield Concourse C/D
  • The AeroTrain

The train will take you from the main terminal to three location at first: Concourse A, Concourse B, and the future home of Concourse C. If this doesn’t make sense, check out this map.

07_05_30 aerotrain

You can see that it’s all set up nicely, except for Concourse C/D. That temporary concourse really is going to go away (though I can’t find a projected date), and when it does the AeroTrain will stop right underneath the nice new concourse. Until that time, there will still be a walk from the stop. As if C/D could get any worse.

Either way, it’s better than the mobile lounge. No more waiting for traffic to cross, no strange detours around obstacles. Just an easy train that goes back and forth with ease.

So, let’s begin the 2 year countdown until the death of the mobile lounge . . . a great idea that in practice was absolutely terrible.

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11 comments on “A Upcoming Death in the Dulles Family

  1. Is Dulles the only major US airport that runs busses (not counting trAAin, Skylink, etc) between check-in and departure terminals? I had never seen that practice until last fall when I flew through a couple European airports. Along with the busses that shuttle you from your gate to the actual aircraft, it was definitely a strange experience.

    The Dulles revamp reminds me of the Terminal 4 and Terminal 4 Satellite expansion at Madrid Barajas. Hopefully they make Dulles easier to navigate!

  2. What sort of distances are we talking between the terminals? If they’re short (0.5mi or less), wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to just build some connecting walkways equipped with travelators? The one that really puzzles me is Narita – it must be only a few hundred metres between the main Terminal 2 and the satellite terminal there yet they have a full-on automatic train system between them.

  3. That was actually a recent addition between the main terminal and the A/B concourse, but it would be a real hike to get all the way out to C/D. I’d say you definitely need transport to get there.

  4. Actually as one who flies out of Dulles on a fairly regular basis, here are my comments about this lovely piece of machinery:

    To begin, the mobile lounges run every 4 minutes or so. Of course if you arrive late at night, usually after 10pm, they pack everybody in them from an arriving flight and then wait for the crew members to board. Sometimes, if there are wheel chairs I have seen them wait upwards of 10 minutes. Just what one wants with an arrival that late!

    Secondly, there are 2 different types of mobile lounges. I am not aware of the specifics so forgive me! One type has doors on both ends and these are only used to connect to the concourses, the second type or the ones that dock to the aircraft —- now these are the worst of the batch because you can only board and exit through the one end. These are the ones that passengers refuse to move all the way to the rear and the line to board the mobile lounges turns into a total fiasco…..the operators scream and people just refuse to move and lets not talk about all the carry on bags that are blocking the aisles. These are also the only lounges that carry International arriving passengers over to the customs terminal.

    Combine all of this together and you get on annoying experience overall. Personally I would love for one of these mobile lounges to end up over at the Smithsonian. If you take a close look above the drivers compartment, you will find a metal plate identifying that they are made by Chrysler and were manufactured in 1963. I believe in the early 1990’s they were refurbished completely. Yes, I ride these things alot ;-)

    On another note, back during the 1960’s I read that initially these mobile lounges were considered part of the onboard experience and they had a bar in them and were all fun and excitement. If you take a “google” I am sure you can confirm this.


    1. Here we are another 2 years after the AeroTrains’ start date, and the moon buggies are still an embarrassingly large part of the transport system at IAD. International travelers, seeing some of the most modern and cutting edge airports in the world, land here to experience/endure our 1950’s technology, in the capitol of the world’s greatest superpower… Impressive…

      And while we’re at it, why are we the only western nation that requires everyone to walk our bags thru customs, even if we’re just transiting the country…? We really need to move into the 21st century, here…

  5. Not so fast… passengers flying out of Concourse D (a very busy part of IAD!) will still be enjoying ‘moon buggie’ service for quite some time (until the new midfield terminal is built — but I’m not holding my breath).

    Looks like UA flyers (as well as several other airlines — such as BA) will not be saying goodbye to those people movers anytime soon.

  6. Fair enough, but if you hate the lounges, you can take the train to C and then walk to D. That’s if you REALLY hate them.

    1. I am one of those people that really hate the moon buggies. I’m flying IAD-SFO, which means I’m going out of C or D. I will walk through C to get to D if I have to. Anything to escape the moon buggies! :D

  7. To add a bit of international flavor, at CDG Air France loves the little buses – helps keep people employed, I guess. Lots of driving in circuitous directions without ever really getting anywhere. Possibly the most annoying aspect of flying air france — even more than their elitest blocking of the coach cabin to prevent the unwashed masses from storming through business until all the well heeled travelers have left the plane.

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