Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is a stones throw from downtown Washington, DC.  This is the main reason why this airport is so appealing.  While fares can be slightly higher at DCA, the convenience of this in-the-city airport more than make up for it.  

Reagan National, as its referred to, is actually not in Washington, DC.  It’s located in Arlington, VA about a mile from the Pentagon.  It sits on the bank of the Potomac River and has a great view of Washington, DC.  

If you can, try to plan your arrival during the daytime and sit on the port (left as you’re seated) side of the plane.  There’s a good chance you will land from the north and you will have an excellent view of the White House, National Mall, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol.

DCA is often referred to as one of the scariest airport to land or take off from.  This is because flights cannot fly over Washington, DC or the Pentagon.  Flights must use a narrow corridor from the north or south.  Reagan National’s main runway 19/1 ends almost in the river, so it will appear you are landing on the water until right before touchdown.  If you land from the north, planes have to make a steep descent at a crazy angle to line up for landing.  I’ve had a few missed approaches.  No fear, this isn’t all that unusual.

One of the things that makes National a great airport is that it’s not too big.  It’s divided into several piers.  Each one contains about a dozen gates.  A-Terminal is at the far south end of the airport and is the most removed from the other gates.  Each pier has its own security checkpoint.  Depending on the time of day security can take a few minutes or half an hour plus.

If you have time and want to grab a bite, check out the food in the main terminal before security.  There are more options here than there are in the individual piers.  Each pier does have some of the basics including a couple of restaurants, newsstand, etc.

DCA stays small by design.  The airport is slot restricted, meaning only so many flights are allowed each day.  The airport also has a perimeter rule, which prohibits flights over 1250 miles.  There are a handful of exceptions for mainly west coast destinations.

US Airways operates a hub at DCA with flights across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states as well as a few destinations outside of the perimeter.  Delta, American, United all operate flights to their hubs.  The airport is also served by JetBlue, AirTran, Southwest, Frontier and Virgin America.      

US Airways, United, Delta and American all have airport clubs at DCA.  If you have time before going to the airport, check out Gravelly Point.  It’s a park just north of the airport and has a terrific view of planes landing or taking off at Reagan National.