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Washington Dulles International Airport (airport code: IAD) is 26 miles outside of Washington DC. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (formerly known as National) is 3.4 miles from downtown Washington DC, and visible from the Capitol or the White House. If you need to drive to Dulles Airport, take the free Dulles Airport Access Road. The Dulles Toll Road runs parallel, but you'll need to pay a toll. If you accidentally get onto the Toll Road, there are several onramps from the left lane of the Toll Road that will give you access to the Airport Road. Give yourself at least an hour to get there from DC, and another half-hour if you need to return a rental car, as the drop-off location is about a half-mile before the main terminal.
The cheapest way to get to the Dulles Airport is by taking the Metro to L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn and transferring to Metrobus 5A, which will take you to Dulles Airport for $6.00. Exact change or a SmarTrip card is required because bus drivers do not carry cash.
If you miss the bus, another option is to take the Orange Line Metro to West Falls Church and catch the Washington Flyer ($10.00) to Dulles Airport. If time is limited, get a taxicab or shuttle to Dulles Airport. Note that a shuttle may pick up additional passengers at other hotels and pickup locations before heading to the airport, so make sure the driver knows your flight departure time.
A third option is to drive to Dulles Airport. For information on parking near Dulles, visit DCParking.org.
Once you arrive to the airport terminal, be prepared to wait in long lines at the ticket counter at peak times during the week. If you have an international flight on United (or on any other Star Alliance member), the ticketing booth is on the REAR side of the ticket counter. Afternoons and evenings are often the worst (particularly for international departures), as time zones make this the optimal time for wide body aircraft to depart for Europe. Once you've received your ticket, you may need to wait in another line to drop off your luggage at the screening station, as the ticket agents no longer check your baggage at the counter for most airlines.
Once you have deposited your bags, you will be directed to the TSA security checkpoint. Unlike Reagan National Airport which has a separate checkpoint for each of its three piers in its main terminal, Dulles has only ONE for the entire terminal. As of the fall of 2009 a new security area has opened, with as-yet to be determined impacts on lines. Although there are several lines, it may move slow especially on Mondays and Fridays.
After you've had your luggage and your shoes examined, you'll board a shuttle train. At peak times the wait for a shuttle is 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your departure terminal. Then it's a short ride to the midfield terminal, followed by, at most, a half-mile walk down the corridor to your plane.
Bottom line? Budget enough time to get from Washington DC to the front door of your plane. Early mornings and at off peak times, leaving downtown Washington DC at least 2.5 hours prior to departure for domestic flights should be sufficient. During evening rush hour, at holidays or during bad weather, add an hour to ninety minutes to allow for additional traffic and security delays. Add another 30 to 60 minutes for an international departure leaving at a peak time. It's better to arrive at the gate early and catch up on your reading, than to arrive "on time" and miss your flight (most carriers secure the plane doors five minutes before departure time!). While it is possible to walk through the front door of Dulles 60 minutes prior to your scheduled departure and miss your flight, for domestic flights at all but the worst times of day entering the airport terminal 90 minutes prior to departure is typically sufficient.