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Which Airport Do I Fly To In Washington?

None of the airports that service those in the Washington D.C. area are located in Washington D.C. Two airports, Reagan (DCA) and Dulles (IAD) are located in Northern Virginia, and Marshall Airport (BWI) is located out from Baltimore, Maryland.

From my childhood living in Arlington, Virginia and visiting my family that still reside in the area These three airports are the ones that have become one that I have the most experience with. Each airport is distinct and differs in the distance it is to D.C., flight availability and the amenities in-terminal. In the absence of having been through them it’s difficult to decide which one should fly to.

If you’re planning to travel in Washington D.C. or the region around I’ll explain the best airport to fly to with a comparison of Dulles against Reagan and BWI and offer some ideas about what to think about prior to scheduling the next trip. As always, we suggest carrying a backpack that is large enough for an easy travel experience through any airport.

Washington D.C. International Airports and Codes

This article will examine the comparison of the 3 Washington D.C. airports:

Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Marshall Airport (BWI)

Reagan National Airport (DCA) Convenient, but restricted

One of D.C.’s three airports Reagan National Airport (DCA) is my preferred airport for three reasons.

DCA is:

Nearest the closest to Washington D.C.
It is the easiest to reach via public transportation
Small but efficient and easy to use


Reagan is more close than Washington D.C. than Dulles or BWI by a significant distance. Although it’s not situated in D.C. proper, it’s situated over to the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. It’s easy to reach via an inexpensive DCA car service, or by the Metro which is located just in front of the terminal. The Metro is available till 11:11 p.m. in the weekdays, and at 1:00 a.m. at weekends meaning that even late night travelers can benefit from the convenience offered by trains.


The fact that DCA is located close to downtown makes it more closely monitored by the U.S. government. Although you won’t notice or feel a change for a non-specialist and passengers, security for airlines and passengers is more rigorous than the regional airports. This is a good thing. The strict security rules they enforce together with (mostly) business traveler that use DCA makes it possible to get through security quickly as well as the terminal itself well maintained.

Flight Options

The most significant drawbacks to DCA is that it has only domestic flights (plus two flights that fly to Canada) and can higher in cost as IAD and BWI. If you’re looking to travel to an international location through DCA it will require a transfer, usually to Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles.

The airport has 95 flight nonstops departing from DCA Airport, it serves many destinations. The majority of them are situated along the east coast and within the middle west. Many of the direct flights operate into smaller airports, like Chattanooga, Tennessee. You’ll have the most extensive range of routes operated through American Airlines, although United, Alaska, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, and Frontier are also based from DCA.

Insider Tip

Do you want to travel to get from NYC in NYC DC? Use your bus, instead or Amtrak instead. Between security at the airport and transportation from/to the airport, the train or bus are nearly as quick, but will get you in the middle of the city.

Dulles International Airport (IAD)”The “Big Hub”

For the widest range of available flights and best general quality Dulles International airport is in my opinion, the top airport in the region. However, there’s a caveat the airport isn’t that far from D.C.


About 26 miles from the District itself, and over even the farthest metro stops in Northern Virginia, Dulles is close to the rolling farms in Leesburg, Virginia than it is to the capital city of the United States. Based on the location in the District you’d like to go, it takes at least 30 minutes to an hour to travel to the destination. Taxi rides can cost you as high as $60 for one way.

Public transportation isn’t always the best also, although it’s improving. In 2009 the Metro started construction on the Silver Line to extend metro rail service starting from Northern Virginia suburbs out to the airport. The line is now complete and will be able to carry passengers in 2022. In the meantime it is possible to take a shuttle for $5 from the stop at the moment in Reston. From D.C. the journey can take about 1 1/2 hours however, it is considerably less expensive than taxis.


The distance aside, Dulles is a great airport in all other aspects. Although IAD is huge and post-security shuttles may be a bit complicated for those who are new to the airport going from check-in to the gate is quite efficient. The process of clearing customs and security is fairly quick, particularly due to the fact that IAD offers all the expedited customs and security programs Global Entry, CLEAR, and Mobile Passport.

Perhaps the most important thing is that the airport is well-serviced with eateries, shops and facilities.

Flight Options

When looking on flights for the D.C. area, you’ll have the best options for flights from IAD, especially with United because IAD can be one of the United’s hubs. IAD offers the highest number of flight options among all three D.C. airports with nonstop flights to 57 international as well as more than 81 domestic destinations. Domestic flights are typically less expensive from IAD more than DCA.

Insider Tip

If you’re planning to visit D.C. make sure you plan your arrival outside of peak hour which runs from 6:45-9:00 a.m. and 3:00-7 p.m. Every day from Monday until Friday. The traffic flow throughout the DMV is among the most difficult in the country I wouldn’t recommend an hour-long drive after an hour-long flight.

Marshall Airport (BWI): Basic, but budget-friendly

The idea of flying into Baltimore to travel for a trip to D.C. may seem counterintuitive However, Marshall Airport (BWI) is just under half an hour’s distance away far from Washington D.C. and only 30 minutes away via train. The main advantages of BWI however, are the low cost flights and affordable facilities.


The most convenient way to get between and to BWI is via train. To get to Union Station, travelers can take a 20-30-minute Amtrak train at $16+ or 35 minutes MARC train that costs just $7 (one direction). They operate between 3:00 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. Similar to the journey into the city of Baltimore Take the MARC as well as an Amtrak train.

Alternative transportation options aren’t quite as efficient or cost-effective. Taxis, Ubers, as well as shuttles can take around one half an hour to get from BWI until downtown D.C. You can expect that a taxi or Uber ride to cost around $40-90, and shuttles to cost $37 for each person.


Comparatively against Reagan in comparison to Reagan and Dulles, BWI has a reputation of being basic and unloved. As I flew through BWI in 2014, I felt dirty and as if there was no food options other than fast food.

The good news is that BWI is currently working on an expansion of $100 million that will provide new dining and services as well as better security and improved mobility between terminals. BWI has experienced significant improvement. From a gym located in the terminal for D/E to more efficient security lines, BWI is getting closer to what it can offer to its Virginian neighbors.

Alongside the recent adjustments, BWI is budget-traveler friendly. They offer day-passes to the lounge costing only $17.50 and a zero-price markup on all beverages and food The flights aren’t expensive, nor the food and drinks at the terminal cost a fortune at BWI.

Flight Options

While technically considered an airport that is international, the majority of the routes operated by BWI are domestic. Eight international destinations are served with non-stop flights.

However, what it is lacking in terms of options, BWI makes up for its affordability. The flights from BWI are typically less expensive in comparison to Reagan and Dulles with the budget-friendly Southwest Airlines operating the largest quantity of flights between and BWI. Other budget airlines, Spirit and Iceland’s WOW Air, also offer direct flights. Meanwhile, larger airlines such as United, American, and Delta offer good discounts on their tickets as well.

Insider Tip

There’s no way to take a walk or jog from the BWI station to the airport the way it is at Reagan, as it’s offsite. Instead, you’ll take an easy shuttle bus from the station. It’s recommended to allocate an extra 10 to 15 minutes to do this.

DC Airport Summary

Now is the time to make your booking and pack your travel bags.

In the case of domestic flight, Reagan (DCA) is the most convenient airport you can fly to when you travel from Washington D.C. Reagan is the closest airport to D.C. proper (even though it’s technically located in Virginia) It’s small as well as easy-to-use and is easily accessible to D.C.’s Metro system.

Dulles (IAD) is known to be the best choice for international flights as it offers more nonstop flights to international destinations. Additionally, flights from abroad to Reagan might require a stopover somewhere else.

Although I typically prefer Reagan since it’s the most convenient and easiest airport to travel to the airport from Washington D.C., I’ll typically find flights that are significantly less expensive from Dulles. Dulles can also be the sole choice for international flights. It’s also, though big, it’s an efficient and comfortable Airport to explore.

BWI is worth it for those who are on the northern part of D.C. or are willing to take a train to Union Station. It is possible to find affordable flights on low-cost airlines from BWI and often beats the competition in terms of cost.