Comparing DCA vs. IAD – Which is Right for You?

DC Airports

Visiting Washington DC can be rather complicated. There is no actual airport that exists in DC, and traffic can be an absolute nightmare. That is why knowing your airport options when visiting the capital is so important. If you are in town on business, then chances are you won’t have the luxury of being able to spend a long period of time getting in to town, and if you don’t have a choice of which airport you do fly in to, it is important to know how to get into the city and what your options are.

There are pros and cons for all of DC airports, with the two major airports being Reagan Airport (DCA) and Dulles Airport (IAD). Both are located in Northern Virginia, and, though they are not in the DC area, they are within reasonable distance, with plans in 2020 for the metro line in DC to extend to IAD.

To help you learn everything about Dulles vs. Reagan Airports, read this guide: 

Everything You Need to Know About DCA

The Reagan National Airport, DCA, is the smaller airport that features a very close commute to the downtown area. It is a domestic airport and is intended primarily for those flying into DC from elsewhere in the US. You can easily get into the heart of the downtown area either by renting your own vehicle with Advantage or by taking the Metro. When taking into account the heavy backlogs of traffic that the area experiences during rush hour, DCA is undoubtedly the most convenient option.

How Far is DCA From Washington, DC?

DCA is just a 10-minute drive away from DC, as you drive across the bridge.

What Routes Fly Into DCA?

DCA mostly supports domestic flights. Due to the proximity and the nature of DC as the capital and head of state, the flights here are often more expensive. They are best suited for politicians and business people who are traveling to the city, and, with 95 destinations throughout the US and some to Canada, is the ideal airport for Americans visiting DC.

What Amenities are there at DCA?

As DCA is located so close to Washington DC, it means that DCA is actually one of the safest and most efficient airports in the US. With stricter security and better trained security personnel, business travelers will enjoy how efficient and secure the airport is.

Everything You Need to Know About IAD

IAD, or Dulles Airport, is the larger international hub for DC. Of the Washington DC Airports, IAD is the one that is better organized and offers a variety of amenities suitable for vacationers. At 45 minutes away, however, getting into and out of the city can be a real challenge.

How Far is IAD from Washington DC?

It can take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour to get into the city, and that is not accounting for the heavy traffic experienced in this area during rush hour. In fact, if you can, try to fly in during lower periods. Though there are plans to extend the metro to IAD, this won’t be completed at least until 2020, and taxi rides can cost $60 each way.

If you are on a budget, there is a $5 shuttle to Reston, but this can be very crowded and takes approximately 1.5 hours. This makes it quite unreliable, especially if you are trying to get into the city to check-in or trying to leave to catch your flight.

What Routes Fly Into IAD?

There are direct flights to over 57 international destinations and direct flights to 81 domestic destinations. This means, in most cases, that you are more likely to be brought to DCA if you are flying in from the United States, as DCA has 14 more destinations in the US than IAD does.

What Amenities are there at IAD?

IAD is a large airport that uses shuttle buses to bring passengers to the right terminal. Getting through check-in and customs is very fast as well due to the introduction of Global Entry, CLEAR, and the use of mobile passports in the airport.

IAD is also preferable when you are there on a layover or arrived early for your flight, as it has many shops, restaurants, and other top amenities to keep you occupied while you wait, from great bistros to sit down restaurants.

Which Airport is Better for Visiting DC?

These Washington DC airports each have their pros and cons, and which one is better depends entirely on where you are flying in from and what your needs are. American businesspeople and politicians will likely want to fly into DCA where it is easier to get into the city. International travelers will be flying in to IAD, where it can be difficult to get into the city, but on the way back at least they have an enjoyable wait time.