Washington D.C. Reagan National Airport Enters A New, Modern Era

Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) has begun a new, modern era in airport operations. Gate 35X, a notorious bus gate whose removal is symbolic of broader transformations across the board, is no longer in operation and has now been replaced with a brand new 14-gate concourse. American Airlines, the largest airline at DCA, will use the concourse to provide more premium services from the closest airport to the National Mall.

American Eagle DCA
Now, passengers will not need to board flights via a bus to a handstand at Reagan National’s Gate 35X. Photo: Getty Images

Reagan National closes Gate 35X

Early in the morning on April 20th, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and American Airlines launched the new concourse. American bid adieu to gate 35X with a night flight from Washington D.C. to Albany, New York. Quite fittingly, the first flight to arrive in the morning came in from Albany.

Shutting down gate 35X was part of the broader modernization strategy at DCA. Under the banner of “Project Journey,” the new 14-gate concourse was designed to usher in an era of more convenient travel for passengers. The new concourse, which will be fully completed by July 2021, will include room for new concessions, an indoor pet relief area, and some office spaces.

John Potter, President and CEO Of the Airports Authority, stated the following on the new concourse:

“The opening of the new concourse is the culmination of years of work by thousands of employees who overcame numerous challenges and the seismic changes of a global pandemic to deliver a world-class passenger experience at Washington, D.C.’s airports. The airport’s $1 billion investment to transform the traveler experience inside the terminals at the gates and along the roadways will bring a new era of travel to American Airlines’ customers, who can now board regional jet aircraft from jetbridges instead of through Gate 35X.”

AA DCA New Concourse
The new concourse features expanded gate seating areas that replace the cramped quarters of Gate 35X. Photo: American Airlines

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What was wrong with Gate 35X?

Gate 35X is notorious among DCA travelers. It was not a true gate but rather a bus gate. Passengers would board a bus and shuttle off to a parking spot where they would board their jets. Needless to say, it was an extra layer of complexity and inefficiencies that made flying out of the gate cumbersome for even seasoned passengers.

Gate 35X has been around since 1997. It primarily served as a gate for regional flights, especially onboard 50-seater single-class regional jets. It serviced 14 remote hardstands.

American Eagle Test DCA
The gate mostly handled regional jet operations, which will now run from the new concourse with a proper gate area and jet bridges. Photo: Reagan National Airport

In recent years, the primary user for the gate was American Airlines. The Dallas-based carrier, which uses DCA as a regional hub, heavily used the gate to service smaller communities. Before the crisis hit, 16% of all customer traffic and 30% of all departures from DCA on American Airlines were serviced through Gate 35X.

American did not utilize the gate for most of 2020 due to the crisis, which allowed the construction of the new concourse to accelerate, and the launch came ahead of schedule.

Bus gates are a rarity in the US, though some major airports are known for them. However, for the American public, and especially the premium travelers who flew out of DCA, the bus gate was far from preferred and largely derided among the city’s travelers. The gate was so notorious that the marker for 35X will go to the CR Smith Museum in Texas.

American and DCA enter a new era

DCA is entering a new era, and American Airlines is here to support it. This summer, American will operate up to 180 peak-day departures from DCA, including restoring service to more than 15 cities it suspended service to due to the crisis. A total of 85 daily departures are scheduled to operate from the new concourse this summer.

With American coming back, the airline is also giving premium fliers a whole new way to travel out of DCA on a regional jet. All of American’s flights to and from DCA will run with dual-class jets that feature a dedicated premium cabin. This includes running flights with 65-seat Bombardier CRJ700s, 76-seater CRJ900s, and 76-seater Embraer E175s.

American CRJ
American is upgrading regional jets to be larger two-class jets, such as the first arrival into the concourse from Albany. Photo: Reagan National Airport

Robert Isom, President of American Airlines, stated the following:

“The dreaded Gate 35X is no more! American’s new regional concourse at Reagan National Airport is fantastic news for our customers. When fully complete, the investments made in partnership with MWAA will finally enable American to deliver a convenient, accessible, world-class product befitting the gateway to our nation’s capital.”

While swanky amenities like Flagship First Dining are staying out of DCA, the new shopping and dining options should provide some entertainment. There are two Admirals Clubs at DCA, though the one in Terminal B is temporarily closed. A new Admirals Club is scheduled to open in 2022. This will be a 14,000 square-foot facility.

AA New Concourse
The new concourse will cater to a growing number of passengers who fly to and from DCA. Photo: American Airlines

The one-to-one replacement of remote handstand gates with a new indoor gate area with jetbridges will be a welcome relief for passengers and allow American to continue offering its breadth of flights.

While some relics of the past will continue at DCA, including short runways and the perimeter rule that limits how far airlines can fly out of DCA nonstop, passengers can indulge in a much more refreshed and modern experience that finally brings the airport into the 21st-century.

Are you glad that Gate 35X is gone? Let us know in the comments!