Dulles occupies an awkward place for me. With most of my flights originating in Dayton, Washington’s not a bad location for a hub; with my highest airline status on United, it connects the right airline for me. Yet for the most part, I seem to spend a lot of time going out of my way to avoid it.
At first, it was simply a matter of airline; when I first needed to start visiting Northern Virginia in 2010, my airline status was with American. My job’s contracted rate for DAY-IAD was rather high, so unless I was pressed for time, I much preferred to take the cheaper-than-the-airfare mileage reimbursement and drive nine hours than to fly on an airline I didn’t prefer into an airport I didn’t particularly care for.
In 2012, I started needing to travel to Charleston, South Carolina frequently, and our contracted airline for the Dayton/Charleston city pair was United. I gave in and switched to using United on routes where I had a choice, and Dulles was the most direct United hub between Dayton and Charleston. Yet, as often as not, I ended up booking flights through ORD instead. Though in both cases I was exclusively flying regional jets for both segments, at Dulles, I was guaranteed to have to use the A concourse and walk outside to my jet; at least at ORD, I had a reasonable chance of a jetbridge.
With the possible exception of the mobile lounges, Dulles has always felt like a really bland airport to me. The shops, restaurants, and concourse interiors are nothing special. The main terminal is unique, but when most of my flights through there involve a short connection where I may not even leave the A concourse, I hardly even get to see it. It’s a perfectly functional layover airport, but I just don’t really care for it.
As it turns out, In-N-Out Burger is also in Phoenix, and doesn’t serve Dayton.
While I’m sure it’s a trope by now, as someone who doesn’t live in the Southwest, I love when I get to visit cities that have In-N-Out burger. So when my girlfriend and I were taking a trip to Hawaii, we decided to take advantage of our 3.5-hour layover at PHX, and had a taxi take us to Tempe to take us through an In-N-Out. To date, this remains my most expensive trip to a fast food restaurant (a $40 taxi fare to get $10 worth of food), and the only time I’ve taken a taxi through a drive-thru.
Arriving on a Sunday, I didn’t find Little Rock remarkably different from any other airport of a similar size; a dozen gates with a few small shops and restaurants. The signage could have been a little better – several passengers passed the less-than-obvious, unmarked door to pick up gate checked baggage, and the rental car signs pointed to unmanned counters when the employees were all just operating out of the garage booths directly. Still, it was an airport that it wouldn’t be terrible to be stuck at for a few hours.
I found that out the hard way.
I was originally supposed to travel home on a Friday evening after a full day of work, so my coworker and I had booked a flight departing at about 18:30 local to a 45-minute layover at DFW, and then on to Dayton from there. We’d finished early on Friday, however, so after a late lunch we were done for the day and with nothing better to do, we headed to the airport about four hours early to see if we could get rebooked to an earlier flight.
That didn’t turn out to be possible (our fare didn’t allow same-day same-cost flight changes, and the cost difference wouldn’t have been justifiable), so we each headed our own way to burn a few hours before our flight. Looking to pick up some steps on my Fitbit, I walked around the terminal for a while before passing through security and walking a few laps around the single concourse, before finally settling down to take advantage of the spectacular free wi-fi.
Then, at about 17:00, I got an alert that my flight was delayed an hour and a half to 20:00, due to incoming aircraft availability. My second flight was still showing as on time, and I would almost certainly miss my connection, so I talked to a gate agent to try to find another way to get home that night. Nothing was available, though, so the best I could do was take my chances with my original flight and hope the flight to Dayton ended up being delayed as well – if not, I’d be spending the night in the Dallas area.
So, watching American Airlines’ app and FlightAware, I finally saw that my incoming flight was at DFW and ready to come to Little Rock to pick me up – right as the weather that had been hovering west of us came right at us.
It was a bad storm. The concourse windows were shaking violently, and I got to experience my first (thankfully brief) power outage at an airport.
And, just as the storm started to clear, another big thunderstorm hit DFW. A little bit after 20:00, I finally and unsurprisingly got the notice that my flight had been cancelled. I quickly booked a room in Little Rock, called American Airlines to get rebooked on flights the next morning, and finally left the airport to catch a cab to my hotel.
The next morning I headed back into the airport, and was able to depart without much trouble.
Because of all of that fun, Little Rock may now be the airport with my highest average time spent per visit – 9 hours at the airport, with two flights recorded in the flight log.
Port Columbus International Airport is my secondary home airport. While it’s 75 miles away from my home (compared to Dayton‘s 20 miles), it offers more flights to more hubs than DAY, while still maintaining very reasonable parking rates.
Unfortunately, the three airside concourses are not connected behind security, so food options are practically a bit more limited than Dayton; it’s not possible to get to every restaurant with a given boarding pass.
Charlotte is my most visited US Airways hub, and at first, I was often flying to it as a destination when I did a number of visits to some smaller towns in South Carolina. Recently, however, it’s only been a layover for me – and I suspect I’ll travel through it a lot more often now that US Airways is part of American Airlines, as this effectively gives me a new American hub serving Dayton.