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I am coming from outside the US, Which airport should I choose, DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) or IAD (Washington Dulles International Airport)?

Details:

  • I have two options DCA or IAD at the same cost.
  • Destination: Washington DC.

Concerns:

  • Availability of shuttles to downtown at reasonable prices (safety in mind, I would prefer shuttles managed by the airport or governmental entity)
  • Less hassle (organized / convenient / easy processing upon arrival)
  • 4
    DCA has a direct station stop on the DC Metro. It's a 2-5 minute walk. IAD and BWI both have bus service to the nearest metro station, but both are minimum 15 min rides. There other commercial/private transportation services to/from all three. Uber, Taxi, Shuttle Buses, etc. – CGCampbell Jun 15 '16 at 15:50
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    Where are you staying while in DC, at least in a general sense. Northwest? Northeast? Crystal City? – CGCampbell Jun 15 '16 at 15:51
  • @HeidelBerGensis At the moment, I believe only Canada. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 15 '16 at 16:27
  • @CGCampbell NW :) – HappyBee Jun 15 '16 at 16:47
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    @HeidelBerGensis: Wikipedia also shows Bermuda and Nassau. Given that it would have to be an airport with preclearance that is also within a 1250-mile perimeter, there aren't a lot of other possibilities. Freeport is an option but Aruba is too far. – Nate Eldredge Jun 15 '16 at 18:04
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If you have a choice without any other considerations (i.e. similar price, time etc.), DCA is much closer to the center of the city than IAD. About 10 minutes versus 45 minutes driving (may vary with traffic).

DCA is, however, a domestic airport. If you are flying in from abroad (as you say you are), you will be connecting somewhere else in the US to end at DCA. Conversely, IAD has direct flights from many international hubs.

Ultimately, I don't think the choice of DC airport matters all that much for an international traveler. Yes, you save a bit of time using DCA in terms of getting to/from the airport. But, the overall itinerary (including layovers and price) is likely to be a much greater factor in your decision.

Indeed, to get the best itinerary/price you may also want to consider Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). It is a bit further away than IAD (50-55 min drive), but if you can get a more direct or cheaper flight there, it may be a good option for you.

So, my advice, check out flights to all 3 DC airports. Consider the overall price and the total travel time (including connections and travel from the airport) and choose the best flight overall. I doubt the 30-45 minutes that DCA saves you on the ground will be the deciding factor.

Update in response to edit

Both airports have shuttles. They are privately operated in both cases. DCA is also connected to the DC metro. To take the metro from IAD requires a shuttle bus to the end of the line.

Prices going from DCA may be lower than from IAD (depending on which mode of transport you choose). SuperShuttle (a shared ride shuttle service) charges 29 USD dollars from either airport to the city center.

To reiterate, if you have a choice between two travel itineraries that are otherwise identical in terms of price and travel duration, choose DCA. It is closer, saving you time. You have the option of using the metro. And just getting a taxi wont be an overly expensive option.

  • 4
    There are flights into DCA from foreign airports with pre-clearance, e.g., most major Canadian cities. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 15 '16 at 16:23
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    You're vastly underestimating Northern Virginia and DC traffic. Unless you're landing in the middle of the night, getting into central DC from Dulles (IAD) will take at least an hour. – Brian Jun 15 '16 at 21:30
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    I concur with @Brian. I used to live not far from IAD - in Chantilly, VA. Early Sunday morning I could drive to the centre of Washington in just about 40 minutes (without speeding). In rush hour traffic, it would be at least double that. – Aleks G Jun 15 '16 at 21:47
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    I believe BWI is connected to MARC (aka commuter rail).... – UnrecognizedFallingObject Jun 15 '16 at 22:57
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    @UnrecognizedFallingObject BWI has a rail station with MARC and Amtrak service, which requires a free shuttle ride. The B30 bus provides direct service from the terminal to the Greenbelt Metro. – choster Jun 15 '16 at 23:54
9

I live ~10 minutes from Dulles (IAD) and ~45 minutes from Reagan (DCA), and have flown in and out of both airports.

IAD is a more organized airport, but it's farther from the city. It may not seem like a great distance, but traffic here is the worst in the US. Traveling even short distances around here can take a long time, and cost a lot of money if you take a cab. The DC Metro doesn't yet reach to IAD, and you could take a shuttle, but that will add additional wait time.

If you plan to stay in a hotel before going to the center of DC, I recommend IAD because the hotels get cheaper the farther you go from DC, but otherwise you should go with DCA to save yourself some hassle.

0

IAD is where most international flights arrive in, however if you don't mind making an extra connection to go to DCA you could perhaps connect through somewhere such as New York (JFK/LGA) or Philadelphia (PHL). Keep in mind there are no international flights that I know of going to DCA except Bermuda.

  • 2
    Toronto and Montreal also offer flights to IAD. This is because these airports also offer US preclearance. – Robert Columbia Sep 2 '18 at 10:28
-2

DCA - this airport is much closer metro to town is at the airport (3 min walk through tunnel and up the escalator) and takes 10 min to town;

IAD - metro will be at the airport in a few months; it is not there yet;

  • This doesn't add anything to the existing answers. – Mike Harris Dec 6 '18 at 15:56

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