Among the long-ago kindergarten memories that have managed to survive in my brain all these years is a My Weekly Reader article about the mobile lounges at Washington, DC’s Dulles International Airport.
In typical gee-whiz prose crafted to amaze and inspire the average space-age kid, the article described how the lounges whisked passengers to and from their aircraft in climate-controlled comfort. No worries about having to dash across the tarmac in inclement weather, or heft luggage up and down stairs.
How totally cool! Well, at least it seemed so back then.
After relocating to Northern Virginia as an at least somewhat less-impressionable grown-up, my awe of the mobile lounges gradually deteriorated into anathema with every flight out of Dulles.
It seems that in the intervening years, a combination of factors transformed them from harbingers of the future to outmoded relics of the past. The growth of passenger aviation in general, and Dulles itself, meant that the lounges no longer took passengers to their plane’s doorstep, but rather from one expansive terminal to the next.
Air travel had also become--for better or worse--less leisurely and more time-driven, and therefore, more susceptible to the vagaries of security, weather, and close-shave connections.
So who wants to wait for 10- to 15-minute ride on a mobile lounge, particularly when you still have a long hike to your gate, or after a long flight home when you’re desperate to get to your car or the taxi line?
That’s why Dulles’ new AeroTrain transport system may be the best thing to happen to the airport since Eero Saarinen got the gig to design the main terminal.
The sleek $1.5-billion system, which went into service on January 26, is the final major component of Dulles’ nearly decade-long, $3 billion capital improvement program. The three-car trains, designed and built by Sumimoto Corporation of America, speed passengers from one terminal to the next in less than two minutes through a 3.78-mile tunnel system located 55 feet below grade.
No more waiting for the mobile lounge to fill before it leaves the terminal or having to dodge taxiing aircraft that have always had the right-of-way on the Dulles airfield.
Appropriately in the era of aging Baby Boomers and their withered IRAs, the mobile lounges aren’t ready for retirement just yet. They’ll still be used to shuttle passengers to Dulles’ D Terminal, and those departing and arriving on international flights.
(Because the D and C Terminals are connected, my hatred of the lounges is such that I’ll probably still take the AeroTrain to C and walk to whatever D gate I need. I can use the exercise anyway.)
But there’s still hope for a mobile lounge-free future at Dulles. Long-term plans call for eventually extending the Aerotrain into a complete loop after several additional midfield terminals are constructed if and when air traffic at Dulles necessitate it.
Given that passenger aviation still faces a long climb out of its recession-dug hole, those facilities are all probably a long, long way off in the future. But at least when they are finally built, most people using Dulles won’t be watching them from the windows of a “space age” mobile lounge.