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Guide to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)

Located on the border between Loudoun and Fairfax counties in the state of Virginia, Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is approximately 26 miles (42 km) to the west of the U.S. capital city, Washington D.C. It is one of three airports serving the Washington area, the others being Ronald Reagan International and Baltimore/Washington International.

Of the three, Ronald Reagan carries the fewest number of passengers while Baltimore deals with the highest number. Washington Dulles, however, is the biggest in size, covering 13,000 acres, and the busiest in terms of international flights and dealing with over 60,000 passengers passing through the airport on a daily basis. The airport is regarded as the international hub for the area and is a major base of operations for United Airlines.

Only opened comparatively recently in 1962, the airport takes its name in part from John Foster Dulles who was a former Secretary of State for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The IATA (International Air Transport Association) designation code for the airport was once DIA (Dulles International Airport) but this was often mistakenly read as DCA, which is the IATA code for Ronald Reagan Airport, so the code lettering was altered to IAD.

Airport History

Prior to World War II, Hoover Field was the chief airport in the Washington area situated on the site where the Pentagon now stands. Hoover Field was replaced in 1941 by Washington National Airport but, a few years after the end of the war, aviation authorities started to consider building a second airport close to America's capital city. The Washington Airport Act of 1950 provided funding for the project with the new airport to be situated in Fairfax County. The selected location was quickly discarded, however, due to protests from nearby residents and the ever-expanding suburbs around Washington.

Finally, in 1958, President Eisenhower chose the present day site which was to be named after John Foster Dulles who later became chief of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Built on the site of a smaller airfield, called Blue Ridge Airport, construction of the new airport was not without controversy as 87 property owners on the airport site saw their holdings condemned and demolished.

Design and Layout

The main terminal was designed by noted architect Eero Saarinen and is recognised for its grace and beauty. Reconfigured in the nineties, the length of the terminal was more than doubled affording more space for passengers and ticket desks.

At the time of opening, Dulles Airport (as it was officially called) had four runways (three long and one short), a short row of offices, a small hotel and a man-made lake to capture rainwater. Dulles also featured a two-level roadway at the front of the airport: one for arrivals and the other for departures.

The airport's name was changed again in 1984 when it was given the official title of Washington Dulles International airport. Today, IAD still retains the main terminal building but also has two satellite terminals housing Concourses A, B, C and D which have a combined total of 139 gates. There are four runways at Dulles with a fifth still in the planning stages and no set date for construction to begin.

Airlines Operating at Washington Dulles Airport

There are three terminals at Dulles Airport but none have any names apart from the main terminal which is known simply as the “main terminal”. The two remaining terminals have no designated number or letter and the only distinction between the two is that one houses Concourses A and B while Concourses C and D are to be found in the other.

This does not make it very easy for departing passengers to find the correct departure gate. Arriving passengers from international flights will most likely disembark at either Concourse A or D but this is not a guaranteed fact.

For the most part, airline companies are allocated a terminal or concourse as follows:

Main Terminal

Air Georgian Airlines (Air Canada), Frontier Airlines, Southern Air Express

Concourse A

Aer Lingus, Air China, Air France, Aeroflot, Copa Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, KLM, IcelandAir, Korean Air, Porter Airlines, LATAM, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Sun Air International, United Express, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic

Concourse B

Air India, AeroMexico, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Avianca Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Delta International, Lufthansa, JetBlue, Qatar Airways, PSA Airlines, Royal Air Maroc Airlines, South African Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, TACA Airlines

Concourse C

United Airlines, United Express

Concourse D

United Airlines, United Express

Regardless of which concourse or terminal building international arrivals disembark they will be directed through the secure area to the International Arrivals Building where customs and immigration are located.

Dulles Airport Customs and Immigration

Dealing with as many as 2,400 passengers per hour, delays and queues are to be expected in baggage reclaim, customs and immigration areas but the situation is much improved on what it was a few years ago. More than six million international passengers pass through Dulles Airport every year and it is to the airport's credit that queues and delays are kept to a minimum thanks to the recent enlargement of the arrivals hall and the installation of new customs inspection checkpoints.

All non-U.S. Citizens arriving on international flights and their baggage must be screened and passed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents before leaving the secure area and exiting the airport. The regulations vary depending on a passenger's nationality and country of departure.

Passport, Visa and Customs Declaration Form

Non-American travelers from many countries will be asked to present a valid passport and authorised U.S. Visa. Visa holders are also required to fill out a Customs Declaration form which is usually distributed and completed while in flight.

Passport with ESTA

Citizens of countries enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) do not require a visa but must possess a current passport which has ESTA approval. ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an electronic form of visa which is linked to a passport and grants the holder permission to enter the United States. Entry is not guaranteed, however, as a CPB agent may deny the holder entry if there are reasonable and sufficient grounds for doing so. The VWP countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom. Intending travelers should ensure the ESTA has been granted well in advance of travel.

Clearing customs can be accelerated for regular visitors to America who are members of the Global Entry Program. Members of the scheme can avoid queueing by scanning their passport and fingerprints (which are recorded during the application process) at the Global Entry kiosks found at many American airports including Dulles. There is an enrolment fee (currently $100) for the Global Entry Program which is open to some European countries including the United Kingdom.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

Getting to and from Washington Dulles Airport can only be done using a car or buses as there is no rail service as yet.

Fairfax Connector

Both Route 981 and Route 983 bus services run between Washington Dulles Airport and Reston Station where connections can be made to Washington D.C.


The Metroline rail system, operated by Washington Metro, connects Washington D.C. and the airport. It became operational in 2023


Route 5A runs from the airport and terminates in southwest Washington D.C.


A regular Megabus service operates from the airport to Charlottesville and Blacksburg.


All taxis at Washington Dulles are owned and operated by the Washington Flyer company.


Both Uber and Lyft operate car services to and from the airport.