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I'm planning a trip to Washington, DC in October and I need to do something different from my previous trips: fly back home out of Reagan Airport (DCA) early in the morning (6am) on a Wednesday.

Metro doesn't run that early (I must arrive at the airport at 4am at the latest) and I've heard that it's hard to get a cab in DC for a trip to an airport so early in the morning. There are many hotels on the Virginia side within a few miles from the airport, but you can only get from a hotel to the airport by shuttle, which, again, may not be running in the middle of the night.

First, is it true that cabs in DC are such a big problem? Second, what are the best transportation options in this case?

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2 Answers

DCA is a relatively civilized airport; even without elite frequent flyer status, 4:30 should leave plenty of time, especially if you check in online, use a mobile boarding pass, and do not check bags.

It sounds like you would be staying in Crystal City, for which some practical options include the following:

  • If your hotel has an airport shuttle, inquire about early morning service. Some may run on a limited off-hours schedule, or they may be willing to do ad hoc trips. Early flights are not unusual for business travelers.
  • For the same reason, some of the larger hotels always seem to have a spare taxi or two waiting out front, 24-7. If it is not there you can call and request one for immediate pickup, or use a service like TaxiMagic. I would allot 15-20 minutes just in case one is not immediately available, but I have gotten one a little before 5am on a weekday within 3 minutes before from the Clarendon area.
  • You can reserve a taxi the night before, either by having the hotel arrange for it, or by calling yourself (I like Red Top and Blue Top in Arlington). You could also arrange for a car service or shared airport van, but given the short distances to DCA, I would consider this a waste of money.

In fact, you could walk to the airport from most of Crystal City via the Mt. Vernon Trail, accessible on Crystal St. between 15th and 18th, or via Airport Viaduct— although I would not attempt this after dark as they are not well lit. (For completeness, I will also mention the 9A/9E Metrobus stop at 26th and Rte. 1, near the Airport Viaduct, which does not run early enough for you anyway).

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Thanks for the answer. I'll be staying on the DC side as all of my meetings will be in the district. (I'd ride over to the Virginia side the night before after all meetings, if I could walk from hotel to the airport, but I don't think that's realistic). On your advice, I've contacted several hotels to see if they can arrange a taxi at 3 in the morning and one of them quickly replied that they routinely do just that for all of their guests leaving from DCA early in the morning. –  Kanadsky Sep 3 '12 at 16:58
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Validated information from a recent trip:

  • Security at DCA opens between 4:30 and 4:45am, so there is no point in getting there before 4:30.
  • Cabs are indeed a huge problem in DC. They don't stop on the street (no racial profiling - they don't stop for anyone, regardless of race) and they dropped all our pickup orders from a residential address during the trip - so don't count on that, either.
  • If you're staying in a hotel, you can rely on the hotel to arrange a cab for you. That works.
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