Dulles May10-4

Dulles Airport mobile “lounge” (from my flickr photos).

One of my favorite authors is Tyler Brûlé, the chief editor of Monocle Magazine and a columnist in the Financial Times Weekend Edition. Many of his columns focus on transport system design issues. Recently he described some of the problems at Washington’s Dulles Airport. Brûlé especially criticizes the truly awful mobile lounge system for transporting international passengers to immigration and customs.

As an aside, I sort of like the mobile lounges, especially as an example of an innovative idea for getting people between the airport terminal and airplanes. Unfortunately the idea never worked well and with the rise of the airline hub-and-spoke system the mobile lounge approach was doomed to fail. (To see how it was designed to work watch the movie Scorpio. A Russian double agent is threatened with deportation as he is being driven up to the door of an Aeroflot plane in a mobile lounge.) But, I digress.

Dulles Airport Air Train Shuttle - - 1
Map of airport transport system (sorry for the quality).

Dulles has made many improvements to the immigration and customs areas during the last several years. They have also introduced a rail shuttle system to connect the terminals. The system works pretty well but they made one very significant mistake (in my view).

They built the airport rail system station for the “C/D” concourse several hundred meters south of the “C/D” concourse so that it could also serve as the station for a future “E/F” concourse. This means that passengers using the “C/D” concourse have a long walk back to their concourse and passengers using the future concourse will also have to walk a long distance to their concourse – equally inconvenient for both sets of passengers. Instead of building two stations (one for each concourse), Dulles built one. That saved money, but adds time and inconvenience for air passengers. It would be one thing if the second concourse existed today, but who knows when it will be built? Why inconvenience all the passengers today for a possible money savings later?

Dulles Airport Air Train Shuttle - - 3

Long walk back to Concourse “C/D” from air train station (maybe they should use the mobile lounges here?).

To paraphrase United Airlines: “We know you have a choice of airports and hope to see you again soon on a Dulles flight.” Well, not if I can choose an airport that gives more attention to making it easier for passengers.

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