Airports / Flights to D.C., Washington D.C.
DCA is now known as Ronald Regan Washington National Airport, and coming from another part of the US, this was the most convenient airport for me to work with. The airport is smaller than BWI, and has tighter security as it's right across the river from the Capitol itself! This made landing and take offs quite interesting as you got to see so many sights from the air :)
I didn't find shopping there very special, but enjoyed the shorter security lines, and shhhhhh - there is ONE smoking area in the entire airport! It's off in the Continental terminal - gate 14ish I believe ... I found it by mistake, but was able to munch, smoke, and visit w/ other travelers while waiting for my boarding begin - right across the hall - aaahhhhh feeding my addiction AND convenience! Who could ask for more? So if you are an addict of nicotine, look for Foggy Botton Brew Pub inside the airport!
I do have to say coming back through here after visiting Toronto was a security trial :) I went through luggage hand searches, Xrays and got into the airport. At my gate to board, another hand search and wanding was conducted. According the the workers at the Toronto airport, since they are considered an international flight, they have to comply with these extra screening proceedures to be able to land at DCA - otherwise they can't continue to service this particular airport! So be aware, with this airport so close to DC, you just might find out you have to got through the mill to get there :)
You can arrive into DC via this very handy airport that sits on the Potomac River. It has one of the shortest runways, but I find it exciting, as it runs parallel to the Potomac. My bro, who's a pilot, told me the way you fly into National, is that you line up the plane with the Potomac, and take your best shot...LOL.. You can get the metro from the airport and be in DC with in minutes.~
There are three airports which serve Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and the Maryland suburbs:
1. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) located in Arlington, Virginia, approximately 5 miles south of downtown Washington, D.C.
2. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) located both in Fairfax and Loundoun county, approximately 26 miles west of downtown Washington, D.C. (23 mi to Arlington) on the Fairfax-Loudoun County line.
3. Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) located in Maryland, 32 miles northeast of downtown Washington, DC (38 mi to Arlington) and 10 mi south of downtown Baltimore.
FROM AIRPORTS TO DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON, DC
1. DCA (10 min.)
- there is metro station (on my picture) adjacent to Terminals B and C (on level 2; yellow and blue line); take yellow line to L'Enfant Plaza station (direction Largo Mt Vernon Sq 7th St - Convention Center; fourth station; 10 min.; fare: $1.35 or $1.40 on peak hours); more options here.
2. IAD (approx. 50 min. - 1 hour)
- take Express metrobus 5A to L'Enfant Plaza ($3.00 paid at driver, get change ready); ask for free transfer if you are going to continue travel by either other metrobuses or metrorails. Timetable: here. Warning: the jorney may take longer time in rush hours. More options here.
3. BWI (approx. 40 min.)
Take an Amtrak train to Washington?s Union Station. It costs $13.00. Details here. Other options here.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located within sight of many of the monuments and important government buildings in the nations capital (e.g., Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial and Jefferson Memorials). Easy access to downtown, but because of it's proximity, security is very high.
Located west of the city, Washington/Dulles International Airport provides more choices for the traveler to use than Reagan National. Many international flights along with cross country flights takeoff/land here.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (or "BWI" for short -- also its Airport Code), is about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Washington. Most domestic budget flights arrive at this airport. A hub for the U.S. budget carriers Airtran Airways and Southwest Airlines, BWI also receives flights from 14 other airlines, including international carriers Air Canada, Air Jamaica, and British Airways. Daily direct service is available from Toronto and London-Heathrow to BWI. There is also weekly nonstop service from BWI to Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Metrobus B30 departs from BWI to the Greenbelt Metro Station every 40 minutes. Cost is $6. You pay by feeding your money into the machine next to the driver. $1 and $5 bills are accepted, but no change is returned. Travel time is about 30 minutes to Greenbelt. From Greenbelt, the Metro ride downtown takes about 30 additional minutes. Fare from Greenbelt to L'Enfant Plaza in Washington ranges from $2.75 to $4.65, depending on the day and time of your trip.
RAIL: From the terminal, you can take a free shuttle bus to the BWI Rail Station. From there, you can take either the MARC Commuter Train ($6, approximately every hour Monday-Friday only, 40 minutes) or the AMTRAK train (roughly every hour, fare varies but usually $14, 25 minutes) to Washington's Union Station.
RENTAL CARS are at a separate facility. A free shuttle will get you there from the terminal in 10 minutes.
TAXIS to Washington are prohibitively expensive, though shuttle van service is available. Check the website below for details.
One final note: You cannot go between the Domestic and International terminals without passing through security. While there is an excellent food court inside the Domestic terminal, the lone food stand inside the International terminal is terrible.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Airport Code: DCA), or "National" as it's known by locals for reasons of brevity and/or politics, is by far the airport most convenient to Washington. Just across the river from the city, Reagan National Airport is the choice of business travelers and politicians. A hub for US Airways, it also receives flights from 10 other US carriers as well as Air Canada. Reagan National Airport only has direct flights to destinations in the USA and Canada, though international travelers can arrive at the airport after arriving in another airport (such as Philadelphia) and transferring to a domestic flight.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Reagan National Airport has its own Metro station, served by the Yellow and Blue Lines. The Yellow Line in the direction of Fort Totten will take you directly into the city. Fare is $1.60 or more, depending on your destination and time of day. Tickets can be purchased from machines outside the Metro gates; credit cards are accepted.
RENTAL CARS: Shuttle buses can take you to your rental car, though it's only about a 1/4 mile (500 meter) walk to most companies. However, some companies, such as Thrifty, National, and Enterprise, are more than 1 mile (2 km) away on Jefferson Davis Highway.
TAXIS are very expensive. A taxi ride downtown will normally cost $20 or more. Unless you have a lot of luggage, the Metro is a much better option.
Ronald Reagan International Airport has to be one of the United States' nicest. It was my first time using it and it was a pleasure. We flew from Fort Lauderdale to Ronald Reagan Airport on US Air and though it was not a direct flight, since it was a fairly short one, it was pleasant enough and at approximately $180 R/T each, about the least expensive we could find.
The airport is quite pleasant and with a huge US flag dangling down from its rafters, I can't imagine a better way to enter the city than by air and by arriving at this very airport. It is also very easy to get into town from Ronald Reagan as it is on two Metrorail lines. It was the reason we chose Rosslyn to stay as it was on the one of these lines as well. The ten minute trip costs only $1.45 each. Though common in Europe, this is one of the few towns that has good rail service to its airport.
Coming in from THurgood Marshall airport you can take the Greenbelt Express Bus to Greenbelt Metro Station to Washington DC and the appropriate subway line to where you are staying. In our case our stop was Waterfont.
Take a couple of things into consideration. This airport reminds me of DFW-Dallas/Fort Worth. If you are renting a car, the car rental terminals are offsite, so you must take a free bus there. Add on the time to turn in your car and about a 15 minute bus ride to the airport when factoring how early you have to arrive for your flight. I found the check in and security lines to move relatively quickly. Also, in order to get to many of the terminals you have to take a mobile subway car on wheels(this is the only way I know how to describe it) from the main terminal. This is about a 5-10 minute ride, so factor this in too.
We flew into Dulles, took the Washington Flyer to the Metro, then the Metro to Smitsonian stop and a short walk to our hotel. It was a 2 hour trek during rush hour,after the flight, with luggage. It wasn't the worse thing in the world, but the airport had some sort of "moving lounge" ,the Washington Flyer bus was nice and easy to find, but a long wait and :30 minute ride. The Metro was almost :45, I didn't realize it would take that long.
By far, the nicest airport to fly into is DCA (Reagan National Airport), but it can be a HUGE hassle. Flights into/out of DCA are often very expensive and are sometimes reserved for government officials ONLY, but it is a small airport and a metro stop away from just about everything. If you can swing a cheap trip into/out of DCA, then go for it.
That being said, I recommend flying into BWI (Baltimore, MD) and then taking the metro into DC. It's way cheaper and far less of a hassle, especially if you have someone there to pick you up.
Finally, IAD (Dulles, VA) is an option, but it's normally quite expensive and more out of the way.
SAA flies daily to Dulles, Washington DC from South Africa. The flight makes a stop over at Dakar. It is a very long time on the aeroplane, but you don’t have to catch a connection flight. Flights leave from OR Thambo Int Airport, Johannesburg.
Another option is to fly with Delta, via Atlanta.
You didn't say which day, but there is a 4:50am 5A bus Monday-Fri and the earliest on the weekend is 5:30 from your location (L'Enfant Plaza). As the other poster has said, you will be cutting it really close using the the 5:30 bus to catch a 7am flight at Dulles. I live by Dulles and go out there regularly. You have to also figure in checking in your bags and getting to your gate in your timing and if there are a lot of people at your airline counter. Depending on airline gate location, you may be running through the terminal. Alternative is to take a taxi or arrange a limo service from your hotel. With the distance being traveled from DC to Dulles, both are going to cost about the same.
MY favorite airport here by far is DCA. It is closer to the city and AA has good service here. Paired up with a metro connection and extremely easy access to Alexandria, Arlington or downtown Washington you could easily make a quick trip into the city on a long layover or wait longer before leaving on your next trip out of there.