April 23, 2024

Now, the food. It’s true that almost all airport food in America is overpriced bellyache fuel. But usually you can find something edible, often by patronizing restaurants that make good food elsewhere in the city. No such restaurant exists at Dulles—unless you count Chef Geoffs, which, I gather, is riding on its reputation from two decades ago. So you’re left with chains that originated in D.C. (Cava, Five Guys, &pizza), airport staple Vino Volo, or (gulp) Chick-fil-A. (Compare this to the only truly convenient airport in D.C.—Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a.k.a. DCA to pretty much everyone—whose culinary abundance includes Ben’s Chili Bowl, Good Stuff Eatery, and Lucky Buns.)

But what really makes Dulles a miserable hellhole—the eighth-worst airport in the entire world, according to a 2015 survey—is the so-called people movers. Imagine you have landed at the airport after a nonstop flight from Panama City (five hours), London (eight hours), or even Tokyo (13 hours) or Delhi (15 hours). You’re tired, hungry, irritable. The plane taxis to the gate, and you patiently wait your turn to disembark. You walk up the jet bridge, then down one hallway, then another, and as you anticipate “Customs and Immigration” finally coming into view, you’re herded into what can only generously be called a vehicle: a cramped metal box on oversize wheels.

Pity the poor souls on the “people mover” in the foreground

KATHERINE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES

Conceived in the late 1950s as futuristic, glamorous “mobile lounges,” these anachronistic minibuses look like they’ve been repurposed from an old Star Wars production: crude rovers built to withstand the harsh climate of some distant, dusty planet. And sure enough, after as many as 100 weary people are packed into them, they turn into the bar scene from A New Hope. People are instructed to move to the rear, but are hesitant to do so because that will put them further back in line when it comes time to disembark (again) and navigate another maze of hallways to reach the Customs screening. And yet, the passengers keep pushing their way in, because no one wants to wait for the next Hell on Wheels to shuttle them across the tarmac to a building that they feel, rightly, they should have been able to walk to from the plane.