Some airports needlessly receive a bad wrap and Washington Dulles is one of them. IAD is often attacked by United flyers for the unsightly “temporary” terminal that has now been present for more than two decades. It’s true — the United terminal is ugly — but international connections at Washington Dulles are a breeze. I made it from plane to plane in less than 15 minutes last night…including immigration and customs. Try that in Chicago or New York, even with Global Entry and no bags.
When you arrive at Washington Dulles on a United flight, you have two options — customers connecting head left and downstairs to the midfield immigration and customs facility while customers ending their travel in Washington hop into a “mobile lounge” (i.e. moon buggy) and are taken to the Main Terminal for processing and baggage delivery.
The midfield facility does get busy during the bank of early morning and afternoon arrivals, but even when crowded the wait is no worse than any major airport and often better. During evening times, like tonight, the facility was totally empty. If you have Global Entry, there is a never a wait.
At Washington Dulles, the immigration officer you initially deal with handles both immigration and customs, meaning there is no second line to leave the facility.
After collecting baggage, you proceed into a large security checkpoint where you are screened again. There is no Pre-Check lane, but there is a priority line for premium class and Star Gold passengers and no boarding passes are checked. Agents are typically good about moving the lines fast.
Past security is an escalator that spills out right at C7…you are back on the secure side and if traveling on United, just a walk from your connecting gate. If you are traveling on another carrier, you can take the train to Terminal A, B, or Z which is a short walk from where you come out of the immigration hall.
Even during its busiest periods, I find the way IAD is organized to be beneficial to the connecting traveler and continue to benefit immensely from it.
Yesterday I returned home from Germany via Washington to Los Angeles. Usually I fly via Chicago or Newark, which takes much longer to make it from gate to gate (especially being forced to take the train in Chicago O’Hare).
My plane left Frankfurt at 5pm and was due in at 8pm into Washington Dulles. With light evening traffic out of Frankfurt, we were in the air just minutes after 5pm and landed 43 minutes early.
My connection to LA was not until 10:30p but I saw there was an 8:30p which I knew I would easily make and quickly re-confirmed myself on the United iPhone app. I noticed as well there was a flight leaving at 7:53p that I could potentially make it. It would be worth a try!
I sprinted out of my seat, down the long and narrow windowed hallway to the immigration facility and found myself the only passenger in the room. I quickly proceeded through Global Entry, had my passport checked by an official, then briskly walked toward the security checkpoint. There were only a couple others in line and I was through in under two minutes, even though I had to remove my shoes, coat, and belt (no PreCheck there).
Upstairs, I briskly walked from C7 and D1 and easily made the 7:53p flight, which was still boarding. I had made it from plane to plane — an international to domestic connection — in 15 minutes.
I may be a United flyer, but I’ve entered the USA through HNL, LAX, SFO, SEA, DEN, DFW, IAH, ORD, ATL, MIA, CLT, PHL, JFK, EWR, and BOS. Even airports that are quite good (like SFO or LAX if you are connecting United to United) are not as good as Washington Dulles.
Scheduling does not always permit me to travel via Dulles but I guess I am one of those few United elites who counts IAD as his favorite hub. The ease of international connections are a big reason why.
Leaving Frankfurt, Germany at 5pm and home at 10pm with a stop. Not bad!