Why you should NEVER fly into Washington National Airport

There are many, many good reasons why you should NEVER fly into Reagan National Airport in Washington DC. And I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t, and I mean fly–not sit on your butt in the back of the plane. Of course, it goes without saying that if pilots shouldn’t fly there, neither should passengers. And here’s why.

1. The Postage Stamp Effect: like LaGuardia in NYC, the airport was built in the early days of commercial aviation, when the defining factors in aircraft design were slow air speeds, light weights, agile propeller aircraft. Fine.

Maneuvering this thick-winged, lumbering prop job on final was routine at a relative crawl compared to today’s heavier swept wing jets, which need lots of room in the air and on the ground to operate safely. But Washington National is a postage-stamp sized airport from a bygone era, and the serpentine “approach” hasn’t changed:

Look closely at the approach and notice the approach course–145 degrees, right? The runway heading is 194, so do the math: there’s an almost 50 degree heading change on final–and look at where that occurs. It’s at 424 feet above the ground. Which brings up my next point:

2. Extraordinary low-altitude maneuvering: The wingspan of the 737-800 is over 130 feet long, and the jet is normally sinking at a rate of 700 feet per minute on short final. Thirty degrees of bank at 400 feet with seconds to touchdown, with each wingtip dipping up to 50′ in a turn less than 200′ above the ground? And while a 20 degree offset is considered a challenge, the final alignment on such a typical offset approach happens early–but this turn is after the minimum descent altitude, and you get to finalize the crosswind correction at the last second landing on a marginally adequate runway length:

Look at the runway length of the “long” runway: that’s right, 6,800 feet–200′ shorter than LaGuardia’s aircraft carrier deck, and often on final approach, the tower will ask you to sidestep to the 5,200 foot runway instead. So before you even start the approach, you’d better figure and memorize your gross weight and stopping distance corrected for wind and in most cases, you’ll note that the total is within a couple hundred feet of the shorter runway’s length.

Then figure in the winds and the runway condition (wet? look at the numbers: fuggeddabout it) So the answer is usually “unable”–but at least half of the time I hear even full-sized (not just commuter sized) jets accepting the clearance. I accepted the clearance (had a small stopping distance margin and the long runway was closed for repairs) to transition visually to the short runway one night and at 500 feet, that seat-of-the-pants feel that says get the hell out of town took over and I diverted to Dulles instead.

“Do you fell lucky today, punk?”

If that wasn’t hairy enough (get the pun? “hairy,” “Harry?”) from the north, approaching from the south, you’ll also get the hairpin turns induced because they need more spacing to allow a take-off. Either way you get last second close-in maneuvering that would at any other airport induce you to abandon the approach–but that’s just standard at Washington Reagan. And once you’re on the ground, stopping is key because there’s no overrun: you’re in the drink on both ends. Is the runway ever wet when they say it’s dry? Icy when they say “braking action good?”

And with the inherent challenges at the capitol’s flagship airport, you’d expect topnotch navaids, wouldn’t you? Well not only do they not have runway centerline lights or visual approach slope indicators (VASI) from the south, plenty of the equipment that is installed doesn’t work on any given day. Here’s the airport’s automated arrival information for Thursday night:

Just a couple things to add to the experience, right?

So let’s review. If you’re flying into Reagan–and I’ve been doing it all month–to stay out of the headlines and the lagoon, calculate those landing distances conservatively. The airport tries to sell the added advantage of a “porous friction overlay” on the short runway that multiplies the normal coefficient of friction, but accept zero tailwind (and “light and variable” is a tailwind) and if there’s not at least 700 feet to spare–I’m going to Dulles (several deplaning passengers actually cursed at me for diverting) without even considering reentering the Potomac Approach traffic mix for a second try at National.

Think through the last minute alignment maneuver and never mind what the tower says the winds are, go to school on the drift that’s skewing your track over the river and compensate early: better to roll out on final inside the intercept angle (right of course) because from outside (left of course) there’s no safe way to realign because of the excessive offset and low altitude. A rudder kick will drag the nose back to the left inside the offset, but from too far left, you’re screwed.

Once you’ve landed, now you face reason number 3:

3: The northbound departure procedure. Noise abatement in places like Orange County-John Wayne are insanity off of a short runway with steep climb angles and drastic power cuts for noise sensitive areas. But DCA has an even better driving forces: the runway is aimed at the national mall which is strictly prohibited airspace.

Again, no problem in a lumbering prop job–but serious maneuvering is required in a 160,000 pound jet crossing the departure end at nearly 200 mph: the prohibited airspace starts 1.9 miles from the end of the runway. We’re usually configured at a high degree of flaps (5-15 versus the normal 1) so you’re climbing steeply as it is–in order to prevent violating the prohibited airspace, you must maintain the minimum maneuvering speed which means the nose is pitched abnormally high–then you must use maximum bank to turn left 45 degrees at only 400 feet above the ground.

What do you think will happen with the nose high and the left wing low if you take a bird or two in that engine? Are there any waterfowl in the bird sanctuary surrounding the airport? Would the situation be any different with a normal climb angle with wings straight and level?

So what’s the payoff for this complicated, difficult operation?

It’s a nice terminal. Congressmen like their free parking at National. And they’re way too busy to ride the Metro to Dulles, despite the bazillion dollars appropriated to extend the metro line from the Capitol to Dulles, adding another twenty minutes to the airport travel time is too much for our very sensitive congressmen to endure.

I think that’s about it as far as pluses and minuses. Fair trade, considering all the factors?

That’s for you to decide for yourself, but hang on–we’re going anyway. Just don’t chew my ass when I land the jet at Dulles instead of Washington Reagan National. Because for all of the above reasons, you probably shouldn’t have been going there anyway.

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223 Responses to “Why you should NEVER fly into Washington National Airport”

  1. Hello Chris,
    looks nice….but after practising for a month you should get better into getting into the airfield.
    For ‘on the limits’ weather you should stick to the procedure and do the easy divert.
    But if the weather is slightly better my way of operating would be make the turn easier and leave the RNAV centerline to the outside and then make earlier slow turn to the runway centerline. Just staying outside the restricted area and then get a bit low on the glideslope to land at the very beginning.
    Piece of cake….

    • Get better at it? Better than what? I actually do the RNAV procedure exactly–which doesn’t ever include getting “a little low on glide path.”

      There’s no tailwind allowed on 33 landings, so divert is the correct option.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Let there be no doubt, runway 33/15 is a marginal thing and if the only one available Dulles would be the thing.
        I was looking at the 19 approach where some off-RNAV manual flying would make low altitude maneouvring a bit less drastic.
        And on short runways I always land at the beginning, helps a lot.
        Do you have to work during Christmas?
        Merry Christmas and a very good 2012 !!

      • You’re one of the most experienced 737 pilots I know, flying in some of the most challenging weather and airports in Europe–you have the cred to pull it off!

        In fact, I wish you’d write a blog about some of those experiences–I’d definitely subscribe! Consider that for a project in the new year . . .

        I’m home this Christmas too–you know how that goes: seniority rules. I’d say we both did our share of missed holidays, birthdays and family events early in our careers.

        Next month I’m doing all Lauderdale turns–no deicing!


         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  2. I crossed SNA off my list a long time ago, as well as LGA. Now it sounds like another airport is gone–FINE WITH ME! If you don’t want to fly in there, I sure don’t!

    Now tell me, how do you really feel about BUR?

    Happy holidays!

    • BUR has its own special set of problems. I can live with the short runway (8) because it has a straight in ILS. But 33 has neither an approach nor Visual Approach Slope Indicators and it’s a tight base turn in high terrain. The visual to the south has high terrain within the normal 3 degree glidepath which makes it day VFR only and you might find yourself looking up at hang gliders on final.

      Van Nuys airport is right under the 8 final and the valley is crawling with light aircraft low and slow going every which way, mostly uncontrolled. Not a warm fuzzy with the jet belly up in a steep climbing noise abatement turn, but that’s SoCal flying.

      I’d prefer BUR to DCA any day.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  3. Merry Christmas Chris.
    I always look forward to your articles and have yet to disagree with a single one.
    Continued health and fair weather in the year ahead.

  4. One word. Politicians. More words. Do these people really think they are so important that we should risk our necks for them?
    To my, admittedly small, mind this airport should be GA only. Thanks for the heads up. I will not be flying in there as pax.

    A very happy Christmas to you and yours and a prosperous New Year, with many more to follow.

    A big thank you for your posts.

  5. Napalm in the Morning Says:


    Excellent analysis … as usual. Everything you say is the way I remember DCA but in a strange sort of way, I enjoyed and looked forward to it in the 727 & the 80. I must be dumb.

    As a BE-99A co-pilot in August, 1977 I experienced an engine failure right at liftoff with 15 butts in the 17 seats. The best the Captain could do was 300′ AGL in light rain and fog as we maneuvered over the river and returned to land against traffic. If those other two seats had been filled, I have doubts I would have ever read this post.

    The Captain was one of the finest people and best sticks I ever shared a cockpit with. When I was hired to fly the “big iron” several months later I gave it all I had to pull him up as well. Unfortunately, at 33 he was too “old” to be of any value to the interview gods and did not have a college degree. Regrettable! He eventually made it to UPS through Orion Air. Happy ending.

    Thank you again for a fine post.

    • I agree, from our standpoint as pilots these types of approaches *are* enjoyable and challenging. Like the Expressway Visual to 31 in LaGarbage or the visual to 26 at ABQ, you really get to use all of your skills and when you do, it’s really satisfying.

      I used to go down to the ramp occasionally after landing the DC-10 at LGA and marvel at how well that big jet handled on the Expressway Visual. Those are the fun times as a pilot.

      But as a matter of national transportation policy, DCA makes little sense from the standpoint of practicality as well as risk.

      I still don’t understand why DCA 19 hasn’t been extended south into the Potomac a couple thousand feet, which would even help taking off north, giving jets another half mile of leeway on P56 and less critical takeoff performance parameters.

      And DCA is like Mexico City: lots of hazards and problems which make you want to avoid it, but you know you’re better off doing it often to be proficient in the execution of the approach and landing.

      And the gouge on all of those problem approaches doesn’t come from a chart or CD-ROM or 10-7 page–it comes from getting out there and flying it, as you and I have always done.

      BTW, as a Check Airman, I wouldn’t sign off any captain on Mexico City unless he had a Cuban cigar and a libation on the street at Crisma across from The Presidente. Cars flying around that traffic circle like maniacs, blue cigar haze, “tell me when to stop pouring” beverage servers. Now THAT’S a full-Monty line qual and like the most important flying lessons, it ain’t in some book. You just have to do it.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  6. ivonnemontijo.wordpress.com Says:

    wow..this post was so greek to me but I’ll take your word that I should not fly into Washingotn national Airport…. 😉

  7. Thank you for another peak in the flight deck! Not ever would I say something bad about a diversion. Of course you didn’t plan it that way but you got there safe…

    Merry Christmas Captain Dave!

    Are you flying during Christmas?


    • Hey, fortunately I’m not flying on Christmas. I can remember more than a few on the road, which might make a good blog topic some day.

      Hope the holidays are good to you and yours.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  8. This is a stupid article. I’ve flown aircraft up to 757 in size into Narional and while it can sometimes be challenging, it’s no big deal. I’d be pissed if I was a passenger on his jet when he diverted to IAD when larger aircraft than his were getting into DCA just fine. By the way, an aircraft with a 130′ wingspan doesn’t dip a wing 75′ in a 30 degree bank turn. Not even close. That’s just the first of many exaggerations in this article.

    • Hey, you da man, Dave: the op spec for 33 specifies no tailwind, and 1 was closed, so I diverted.

      But I support you 100% for not diverting and thereby distinguishing yourself as the idiot in the lagoon. Just let me know what airline you fly for so I can watch.

      • I’d like to know what airline “Dave” is a pilot for too.

        Not to watch, but just so I never make the mistake of flying with a prick like him.

    • Speaking of “stupid,” Dave, you must have had a lot of trouble in high school geometry. If you take half of the wingspan (say, roughly 60′) and create a triangle with one 30 degree angle, you can (if you were as smart as my class of high school sophomores) apply the Pythagorean theorem to determine exactly how far the wingtip actually travels–and YOU are not even close.

      Wonder what else you don’t know?

      • Interesting. And although I considered all math to be a curse through high school and college, when you resume class after the holiday break, maybe one of your geometry students would like to send the calculations in for extra credit?

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • RS the Pedant Says:

        Sorry Mr. B, I think you must have been retired too long or something – this is a problem you’d give to students during a trig introduction (probably juniors, not sophomores) not geometry students studying the Pythagorean Theorem.

        It appears that the largest 737 variants made had a wingspan of 117’5″. Assuming that the wingtip is squared off not swept into a winglet (which I’m sure is wrong but this will get us close), the calculation for wingtip drop in a bank would be:

        sin(bank)*(wingspan/2) or in the case of a 30 degree bank, 29.35 feet.

        Which no doubt *feels* like 75 feet the first time you do it.

      • Mr. B’s down 3:1. Anyone, anyone?

      • The sine of 30 degrees = .5

        If one wing is 65 feet long, the wingtip would dip 32.5 feet in a 30 degree bank.

        Dave comes across as a hotshot and/or a hothead, but he correctly points out that 75 feet is way off.

      • Now that’s pretty funny–and exactly why I stay the hell away from math. Maybe Mr. B cares to debate this? Not that I have any idea what either of you are talking about.

        Anyone else? Jump right in!

      • Do not forget the entire plane is sinking 700 fpm, 11+ fps. Takes a few seconds appox. 10 for the turn so that wing tip descends more than 75 ft. total.

    • The last pilot I ever want to fly with is one who is unable to spell the name of the airport he is flying into. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots. I wish Dave would post his airline and name so I could avoid flying with him.

      That said, Chris’ remarks about not knowing math are appalling. As a former Merchant Marine Captain, anyone doing any navigation or boat, ship, or aircraft driving better be damn good at math or risk hitting a reef or building because he or she relied solely on the GPS to steer the course. It is not necessary to know as much in two dimensions as it is in three, but knowledge of angles, turning radii, or draft (read: “Wing Dip”) are indeed critical.

      Shame on both of you. I ran aground more than a few times, and made other navigation errors in my years of sailing, but I didn’t have the lives of more than 20 crew or passengers depending on my being very, very accurate and professional in my performance.

      • Shame? You’re kinda funny. And you really don’t read very closely: I didn’t say I CAN’T do math (I did a bit of it for my MBA), I said like 90% of the free world, I HATE math and do as little as possible.

        So far, haven’t hit a reef. But I’ll keep a lookout.

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  9. Let me go one step further: I think they should close Washington National. I’ve flown in and out of there in the 757. yes, it can handle the runway and the ridiculous approaches and departures. But its only a matter of time before there is another major accident there, and that’s the point some people in congress seem determined to overlook. But when it happens, congress will be grandstanding about safety and pilot error–like they aren’t the root of the problem, insisting on keeping it open.

    • Yeah, congress and other “experts” have wonderful hindsight. It’s their foresight that’s lacking, and that’s dangerous.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

    • I have a better solution. Restrict all passengers going into Washington National (aka Reagan Alzheimer Airport) to members of congress, and limit the pilots to people like Dave who can’t even spell National correctly. That way any tragedy when an aircraft crashes would be limited to the loss of the plane. Perhaps that is even an excellent way to enforce term limits. Make it a law that all members of congress must fly on common carriers out of National Airport.

  10. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the RIVER VISUAL RWY 19 approach. On my first jumpseat trip as ATC observer, the captain flew that approach. Somehow I maintained external calm, but that was hair-raising. I can only imagine what the folks in the back must think.

    I’ve never held a stopwatch on them, but I reckon DCA via METRO and BWI via MARC to Union Station are within five minutes of each other, particularly since you have to change trains/platforms on METRO, and inevitably you arrive at the 2nd platform just after the train has left. All else being equal, I’d just as soon fly into BWI. IAD? Can I have my toenails removed without anesthesia instead?

    • The RNAV 19 is essentially the River Visual with both lateral and vertical guidance. Works great but as you said, the last 400 feet are pretty sporty.

      FAM rides are back for ATC controllers–hope to see you on the jumpseat some time.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Would but I could. I retired July last year. I wouldn’t mind trying t glom my way onto the flight deck for a ride, but I’m sure some spoonful of alphabet soup would raise holy hell.

    • Except that MARC is a commuter rail that only runs on weekdays with regular service during morning and evening commuting hours. Flying out in the morning or evening? MARC is great! Coming in on a Sunday evening? Hello expensive cab ride.

      I will defer to the pilots on the safety of DCA (and have white-knuckled my seat every time I’ve come in to it), but in terms of accessibility via public transit, neither BWI nor IAD can come close to DCA.

      • Amtrak is also an option for BWI, costs more than MARC but less than a cab. I also enjoy knowing that my PP-ASEL logbook has an entry for BWI, no desire to add DCA even if I could.

        BTW I realize it’s fashionable to bash Congress for everything these days but it’s more likely the airlines would push back bigtime against closing National because the customers want their convenience. And Congresscritters are not numerous enough to be significant customers for the revenue sources, that’s the lobbyists and beltway bandits who know how to tie the FAA bureaucrats into knots if they ever try to close DCA. Give credit where it’s due.

      • Good point, DCite, and I’ve had Sunday arrivals cause me to choose DCA over BWI.

        Also, it’s been a while since I’ve checked, but I’ve heard that options from IAD are better now than they were a few years ago. Any insight there?

      • Lots of new and decent food options in the American terminal at Dulles.

        That plus miles of concrete make it my choice.

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Dur………

        Of course I meant options from and to IAD, not what was happening at the terminal. I imagine you knew that anyway.

        I see further down in the comments that METRO is extending past Vienna. I’ll be pleased to fly into IAD once that’s complete.

      • Hey, you know me: after the flying, I’m all about the eating.


  11. Teresa Bailey Says:

    I was based in DCA as a FA for several years. The only shouting match I ever heard (on the #1 jumpseat) between a Capt. and FO was during the approach to DCA. I thought they were going to duke it out when we got on the ground. Whew! That was a scary one. Thanks for the memories. I loved the view coming in and tried not to think about how dangerous it was.

    Happy New Year Chris!

  12. Love reading these comments.
    I started flying into DCA in a 727 in 1966 and continued until my retirement year of 1997.[Still in a 727] My choice.
    Often on a 4 day trip I would land there 5-10 times.
    My total landings there are in the hundreds.
    Favorite approach was the river visual to 18 [now 19]
    You make your own glidescope br dividing the DME by 3 and that is your desired altitude. At about 500 just jog slightly left to stay over the river then turn right to line up with the runway. A FUN approach.
    My pa to the passengers about 15 miles out before starting the turn over the river was to advise the ones on the left side that they would have a great view of the Whitehouse and everyone should know that our sharp right turn just before landing is safe and normal.[True]
    Yes, the departure to the north is a little tricky but after a couple of times you know when to make the zig left and then the zig right back to the right to stay over the river.[Nose is high with no ground visibility forward.] In case of eng failure declare emergency and go straight ahead !
    The only accident there I know of was Air Florida caused by inexperienced pilots with engine ice.
    If the tower offers you 33 or 15 you can always decline and go ahead and land on your intended runway.
    Loved DCA, LGA and SAN. All the ones some love to hate.

    • Good points, although now we’re a little more scientific about the 3:1 rule. Now we have RNAV that creates a 3 degree glide slope (or whatever the approach requires) even around corners. That flight guidance is also displayed in the HUD, confirming the visual with a non-stop crosscheck and a FPV all the way into the flare.

      But again, it’s big jets in and out of a small airport designed for yesteryear. Not a good set up, especially given that Dulles is only 12 miles west.

  13. I see you’ve added a video! Cool, adds some visual understanding but it looks like the person on the right seat is holding a camera during landing? Not sure what to think of that lol, then again I’m not a pilot so 🙂

    Wishing you an early Happy New Year Captain Dave!

    • Yes, I put in “DCA 19 approach” in the search window of YouTube and this video was the clearest of the dozen or so on YouTube shot from various aircraft. Not sure who took the video or who owns the YouTube channel it’s on, but seems like it adds a certain authenticity to the narrative.


  14. FAIL, You are not Captain Dave. OMG, only two Captains of the Airways I follow blogging and I managed to midx it up! Excuse et moi Captain Chris!
    Best wishes for 2012!
    Bas – Slightly retarded but hopes for a better 2012 😉

  15. Just an FYI from a commuter perspective – the Dulles metro stop is still a few years away from completion, so expensive private shuttles, driving, cabs, or inconvenient and long bus trips are the only way to get there for now, making DCA the most convenient by far for DC folks. Once the Dulles metro is operational, that should change, hopefully.

    • BWI is fairly convenient from Union Station, not quite as good as DCA but the operating environment makes it more convenient if weather gets dicey. DCA will have major problems much before BWI so schedule reliability is much better.

  16. Have you ever landed at HPN? I used to fly (as a passenger of course) in and out of there because it’s so convenient to Fairfield County. I seem to remember one of my first flights was in a 737, but then they were all regional jets after that. NWA used to use RJ85(?) that I LOVED. That over-wing look with 4 engines on such a small plane made it look like a tough little B52. I worked with a guy who used to fly for NWA years ago and he said HPN was a nightmare because of noise abatement. I hope that’s changed with newer engines and smaller jets, as I just flew in and out of there for Thanksgiving in a CRJ100. Thanks for the info!

    • Yes, flew into White Plains often as an F-100 captain. Not too stressful as I recall, and nice that the traffic congestion was so much lighter than the neighbors to the south like LaGarbage and Islip.

      • It’s certainly “busy” now, since people have discovered it and not wanted to put up with the traffic to the other airports. My buddy was probably flying 727s back then. I saw a few 737 size planes there, but all the ones on Delta (Mesaba) are CRJs. Jet Blue is now flying from HPN to Southern Florida and the Bahamas. So that’s made it busy, plus lots of people going to Chicago/Detroit/Minneapolis.

      • Actually, Delta flies A-320s, MD80s, and 737s into DCA.

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Oh, actually meant HPN, not DCA. Have never been to DCA. I can remember when HPN didn’t even have any jetways, they use used stairs. Now I think they have at least 2 jetways for the 737/320’s.

  17. Dave Roos Says:

    Purely from the passenger viewpoint, I’ve flown into Reagan and gotten the “Don’t you dare get out of your seat (or make any funny movements)” speech for the last 15 minutes of the flight. Post 9/11, of course. It always seemed completely ridiculous that it was kept open.

    But on the other hand, the park just north of the 19 runway was a great place to watch huge planes come right overhead, so…

    • I remember that park from when I was in high school; my buds and I used to go there to watch the approaches and landings at National. You felt like you could almost reach up and touch the jets–and you practically could.

      Now doing the landings myself, I hardly have time to sightsee–had no idea how much different the world looks from the cockpit on that approach until I started flying there myself in the 1980s.

  18. Watched the video. Love how it starts with an audio alarm of some sort, and one point the pilot who says something about the HUD and gives what sounds like a nervous laugh. Bad part was that after the video, the youtube window fills with links to tons of other aviation videos, so of course I start clicking. I can get a little stressed out flying anyway, the last thing I should be watching is challenging landings, go-arounds, cross wind landings, etc. 🙂

    • Yes, I found the video by searching YouTube for “DCA 19 approach” and this is the clearest of the many uploaded there. There are some shot from propeller aircraft that are much more appropriate because of the lower speed involved.

  19. […] летающим в Washington National Airport, приходится несладко. В Kai Tak, аэропорту Гонконга, тоже не очень круто […]

  20. Yipes. Thanks for sharing this – watching the video at the end cured me from every wanting to land there.

  21. Dear Sir, as a passenger I don’t quite understand your alarm. You are a paid pilot who is in charge of the large aircraft. It concerns me that you are alarmed by this airport and the level of “safety”. Honestly I would imagine a number of airports operate on the edge of current limits and in fact could be edited out of your flight plan for just that reason. Have you considered another line of work…say Botany?

    • Actually, rather than botany, I originally thought I’d be a professional dancer–but the music threw me off.

      Anyway, denial and ignorance are learned behaviors that don’t serve a pilot well, but if they keep you happy in the back of the plane, more power to you.

  22. My choices as a passenger are limited. Once I hand over the cash and walk over the threshold, I am literally a prisoner. Should you choose to park on the Tarmac for seven hours and refuse to open the door, I would be a criminal to try and change that choice. So it isn’t really denial and ignorance, but rather acceptance of reality.

    • Is there the possibility that you could “hand over the cash” somewhere besides Washington National? Any other airports in the DC area?

      And the denial and ignorance is in your perspective that a pilot warning people about the dangers of DCA flight operations is unrealistic.

      Your argument is based on a Ptolemiac (the sun certainly revolves around YOU) perspective that since “you’re a prisoner” anyway, there is no reason to consider the risk.

      Sadly, Copernicus spoiled everything for the rest of us, but you go ahead in your own little world.

      Is it flat?

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  23. My boyfriend just watched the video, then read the blog, and said that he totally agrees about the difficulty with this airport. He’s a pilot and has flown into this airport a few times.
    Must say that the video helps us civilians to understand what you pilots go through.


    • Yes, that’s the best video I found on YouTube from the standpoint of clarity. There are many though if you’d like to watch more!

      And the blog is all about the insider perspective of the airline pilot world. Welcome aboard–feel free to browse around!

  24. wow cool to get an inside scoop into a pilot’s mind. OKay so I am never flying there!

  25. During my years as a road warrior, I always listened to the pilots I encountered. They always had interesting observations you wouldn’t hear elsewhere

  26. emilymullaswilson Says:

    I know nothing about flying, but I thoroughly enjoyed this post. You really made detailed technical information very accessible.

    I just flew into Washington-Reagan a few months ago. I decided that it would the last time I ever flew through that airport, but for a very different reason: AFTER I passed through the full-body scanner, I received such a thorough and intimate pat-down that I felt like I should tip the TSA agent afterward. Maybe the agents know how bad the runway situation is and are trying to do their part to drive people away.

  27. I saw a special on the History Channel of airports that were unsafe and in some cases caused horrible accidents. I personally believe airports should adjust to modern ideas.

  28. You make some valid points, but DCA is enormously convenient and the challenging aspects of the airspace have always kept pilots from being complacent on takeoff or landing. You also seem to have missed trig class. If the wingspan were 130 feet, which it is not (it’s about 115 feet), how would the right wingtip dip 75 feet in a 30 or 40 degree right bank? In a 90 degree bank, the wingtip would be lowered 65 feet. The maximum permissible bank angle in a non-aerobatic airplane is 60 degrees, and it would be extraordinary for an airliner to bank more than 40 degrees. By my calculation, the right wingtip (with a 130’ wingspan) would be lowered 37 feet in a 30 degree bank and 55 feet in a 40 degree bank.

  29. I wish people wouldn’t be pedantic. The aircraft is LOW AND SLOW. The man in the left hand seat is not a happy bunny, therefore I, as self loading cargo will not be happy either.
    As pax we are paying said left hand seat occupant to have due regard for his and our rather fragile bodies.
    Never mind the trig. Low, slow and banked has more than enough holes in the cheese lined up for my liking.
    I would rather fly with an old pilot than a bold pilot.
    I believe Chris and any other pilot will understand where I’m coming from.

  30. this is so interesting! I’ve actually flown into LaGuardia in NYC and i was terrified the whole time! Next time, I’ll definitely be sure not to “fly”

    • No worries about flying–I’d just do it out of Dulles or Baltimore-Washington rather than Reagan National.

      Honestly, the scariest part of my flight day is on the freeway going to and from the airport.

    • Alexandra, never be terrified. The Captain’s job is to get him/her self and the aircraft from a to b safely and with the aircraft capable of being used again.
      If the passengers survive as well….. That’s a bonus. :-)).

  31. But…looks so pretty. Pretty airports are like pretty women, even if it’s a pain in the ass I want to get in there at least once.

  32. This is pretty eye-opening. I always prefer BWI, for some reason. Thanks for sharing!

  33. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever head out that way.

  34. Some of the readers here aren’t getting it.

    Let’s see: Multiply low approach speed by low altitude, by last-minute turns (regardless of how steep or shallow the banking), by short runway.

    That’s Risk X Risk X Risk X Risk = Usually, a safe landing, under ideal weather/pilot/aircraft/runway conditions. Emphasis on ideal.

    If, however, any of these other 4 factors is a negative (like, say, a tired pilot or black ice on the runway), your chances of a safe landing go down by another risk multpilier. This isn’t Poker Stars or Flight Simulator, people, this is fragile human bodies in fragile aluminum body.

  35. […] la intimplare sa vaz dom’le minunea, click pe primu’ link recomandat de ei acolo : Why you should NEVER fly into Washington National Airport. Ia dati si voi un ochi asa, de curiozitate, si pe urma va fac eu un sumar dinjos […]

  36. Thank you for posting such a comprehensive description of the Reagan International Airport. As a passenger I am appalled. I’ll spread the word.

  37. Why did you say the airport was in Washington? It’s not. Neither is the Pentagon.

    • Damn! All this time I thought I was flying into Washington–but it turns out those crafty airport people NAMED it “Washington Reagan National”–and fooled everybody!


  38. Summer Said Says:

    Whoa. All this pilot talk has got me excited even though I don’t understand what on earth you fellas are talking about. I love the jet head vernacular however. It’s sexy.
    But I will say this: NEVER FLY INTO MIAMI INTERNATIONAL. You will land by the seat of your pants,your teeth in your hands, through a hole in the sky in a driving torrential storm only to get lost for 2 days trying to navigate your way out of Hialeah. I’m a Florida native and I’ve done it 3 times.

    • Miami International? I agree 100%. There’s a diagonal crossing runway that makes for a spaghetti bowl traffic pattern in the air, slam-dunk approaches and you’re right, random monsoons.

      OTOH, love the Miami Beach layovers.

      • Summer Said Says:

        Hahaha! Slam dunk fo sho! We were supposed to circle, which everyone hates I realize, but the pilot must have been an ex- fighter jock. After making the announcement, I settled in to sleep for an hour or so when he must have thought, “Aww, what the hell!” and dive bombed out of the sky. That wasn’t the bad part. It’s trying to get out of that place. It’s some kind of trap. Next time I’m going to Panama, I’m taking the bus. God bless you guys. Cheers.

    • If you are a Florida native, you should know that people living around the airport remove the street signs so that people WILL get lost trying to leave Miami Intl. Then when they stop to ask for directions they are easy prey for the thieves and killers who have removed the signs.
      I lived there for ten years (Ft. Lauderdale) and in that time there were six murders and uncounted robberies. The airport itself is a large enough field for any plane, but the neighborhood it is in is totally unsafe.

      • After some German tourists took a wrong offramp on 95 and we’re shot to death they put up those large sunshine logos to keep tourists from wandering into the combat zone.

        Welcome to the sunshine state.

      • Summer Said Says:

        You know, I honestly do believe that urban areas are traps that victimize tourists and those unfamiliar with the area. Miami is certainly in that group and I avoid it completely. As frightening as it seemed to dive out of the sky like a falcon, I only got scared after I landed. I’ll put my faith in the pilots. I guarantee we have the same goal. Not so much the native inhabitants.

  39. I agree with many of your thoughts on the challenges of the airport, but something happens that keeps its record quite good. If you run the accident statistics on the NTSB web site, there aren’t any fatal accidents from 1962 forward that bear any relation to what you describe. My thesis is that the many challenges keep you professionals at your best. At Dulles, it’s so easy, it’s more likely that complacency will set in. At DCA, I know you will stay “on your toes.”

  40. William Lewis Says:

    As a passenger, once flew in to National up river. Captain was fighting heavy cross winds out of the west. When we got to leeward of the power plant stacks, the plane dropped like a rock. Had to climb to make the runway.. Also fun to watch approaching aircraft then from a Marriott nearby.


  41. Chris – good read. I’ve heard that DCA is a tricky airport, especially coming in from the North. I live in DC and have flown in and out a few dozen times. Mostly from DCA, because of convenience, and occasionally IAD or BWI b/c of carriers or price.

    As someone who lives right in the DCA 145 flight path (near the resevoir you can see in the video), I’m well aware that the Mall, the Pentagon and the Naval Observatory no-fly zones make it so that the only approach left for DCA is along the river. I’ve more or less gotten used to the noise from incoming and outbound planes, but I’m curious – why is it that occasionally some of the incoming planes (and *especially* some of the outbound planes) are so much louder than others. It doesn’t seem to be consistent enough that its a particular type of plane. Its fairly rare, but every once in a while (maybe one out of 8 or 10) are really loud. Looking at the RNAV chart, I’m about where inbound craft are between 1200 and 1500 feet.

    Any ideas?

  42. Not 100% sure I understand even 50% of what you blogged about but it was very interesting (kind-a-scary) and I’m very grateful you know what you’re doing. I only hope the pilot of the next plane I get into does too. Happy New Year & congrats on getting freshly pressed!

    • Hey thanks–I just noticed that I made “Freshly Pressed” within the past hour or so. The blog entry went viral earlier in the day–it’s had over 15,000 views since last night. Guess folks are interested in the DC airport.

  43. Holy crap! So glad I couldn’t see that approach from my seat in the back of the plane! Had I known! LOL!

  44. Thank you for explaining. Very interesting.

  45. I lfet comments before but they don’t seem to have taken so here they are again.
    I LOVE planes and LOVE flying. I envy your job but am happy to live it through blogs:) A vickers, DC3 (i think) Concorde and 747-400 side by side flying. That’s some fancy CGI:)

  46. Wow, this makes me a little more concerned than I wanted to be about flying. Good information, but I think I have to say that ignorance actually is bliss in this case – even if bliss is potentially life threatening.

  47. I flown into Reagan a couple of times since I’m around the area. The facts you present are very informational. I know Dulles and BWI (etc.) are other options or flyers; considering Reagan has been operating for years now and is widely depended on, is there a way we can ensure passengers are safe? This implies keeping the airport, since it would be risky on the economics side to ignore or get rid of it. Maybe, expansion? That’s just my take 🙂

    • Yes, there are some improvements that could be made: the south runway could be extended on piers over the water another couple thousand feet like the runways at LaGuardia Airport are. That would give jets better take-off performance and northbound, separate jets from the restricted area by half a mile. All of that would help, but there are no signs of any of that in the works, unfortunately.

  48. Cool video! It was interesting to read your post from a pilot’s perspective. I haven’t flown from Reagan but have flown from Dulles. Your post gives me new perspective as to what a pilot may be going through when it comes to flying us around. I’ve been on a few flights that have been kind of rough before, and perhaps, the pilots were facing some conditions as you described. I’m glad your post was freshly pressed because it’s definitely different and quite insightful.

  49. indiraadams Says:

    Unfortunately, I only understood the following sentence in the whole entire post — “Why you should NEVER fly into Washington National Airport”! You sound very educated, and I am honestly really jealous that you know so much about airplanes — a very tricky subject. When we fly, we always ended up using Dulles, and now I’m really glad that we do. If safety is the issue, I will defiantly recommend my family to stay away from Reagan National Airport. Awesome post! I love to read about flying!


  50. it sound like conspiracy , but it so factual…

  51. Actually had most problems flying in/out of this airport. The last time I determined never to do so again and haven’t since. We were informed our pilot had arrived for the flight too inebriated, so they had to get a replacement who’d just flown in from Europe, exhausted but at least sober.

  52. So glad that my flight home is to Atlanta or Charlotte…Thanks for the post…

  53. Had to stop reading because a) I am scared of flying under good conditions, b) I live in DC, c) I fly in/out of DCA twice per month for work. In 15 years flying in/out of DCA, my plane has touched down twice only to lift back up and require a second approach. The first time, we didn’t have enough fuel for more than one more landing so the pilot just took us to Richmond and landed us there (we’d burned through a ton of fuel trying to dodge storms). The second time, the pilot came on the intercom and said, “Sorry folks, we need to take a second pass at this – we didn’t have enough runway ahead of us to stop without putting you in the Potomac.” Thanks.

  54. Fr. John+ Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly- I HATED flying into DC, anyway, just for the evil contained therein. Dulles is DULL as Dirt, but it cut off a 1/2 hour from my destination in Western VA, anyway- when I was going in that direction.

    But the main reason I am no longer flying anywhere, is the bastard-in-chief’s invasive TSA ploy. Sorry, don’t want chimps and non-Americans patting MY junk, my wife’s, or my kids. They can all go to hell, and ALL the airlines can die, as far as i am considered. TSA is no better than the Bolshevik meme, ‘Your Papers, please.’
    Come to think of it, that is EXACTLY what it is!

    Fly straight, say your prayers, and hope for sunnier skies, come 2013.

    • How do you really feel about this?

      • It’s totally amazing that so many people can get sucked into believing this crap that DCA is a dangerous airport.
        As I said before, I have flown a 727 hundreds of times into DCA in all kinds of weather [ with legal landing limits ] as has untold numbers of other pilots. All done safely.
        All of a sudden with this blog post, DCA is now a dangerous and unsafe airport. Just look at the safety record and you can see that the last accident there was in the 70’s I think. And that one could not be blamed on the airport. Some of you people are making up scary comments about something of which you know nothing about.

      • “All of a sudden?”

        That would be true if I was the only one pointing out the hazard, and if you weren’t the only one insisting there are none.

        Neither is true, but don’t let that change your thinking.

  55. Excellent read. Fascinating, but scary: I live in the shadow of DCA!

  56. Lived in Arlington and Alexandria for 16 years and adored the convenience of National Airport.

    Dulles continues to be inconvenient, as the metro never connected the city in an efficient manner. Politics and pilots aside, how often do we hear of accidents at National? There are dangers crossing the street, driving an automobile, and eating at restaurants.

    Clearly pilots and ATC are doing their jobs beautifully at National.

  57. …you can’t take the metro to dulles…

  58. It’s funny how each airport has a personality all it’s own. I’m from Houston. Our airport tend to be large and more than a little tense and formal.

    • Houston Intercontinental is huge, geographically–taxiing in or out eats up a lot of time. The departures are kind of freaky–one hooks back around right over the top of the airport and there’s no 250 knot speed restriction as in other places in the US below 10,000 feet.

      Houston Hobby is smaller, more cramped and the crisscrossed taxiways and runways make runway incursions a bigger issue. But I’d rather fly into and out of Hobby–less crowded.

  59. Congrats on being freshly pressed. 😉

  60. “Congressmen are too lazy to take the Metro to Dulles Airport” — um, what metro is that? It ends at Vienna. Still.

    • What?!! When did that happen?

      Meanwhile, did you notice the huge construction mess on 66 east and westbound? That’s due to the construction of the extension of the Metro past Vienna out to Dulles.

      And when it’s extended, I doubt congressmen will give up their DCA perks. Just a guess.

  61. That was a cool video. I like seeing good flying from the cockpit. I totally appreciate commercial pilots more now….especially since I when to Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach.


  62. Red Toenails Says:

    This just solidifies my love-hate relationship with flying. Thanks for the info.

  63. I am not a pilot, but have flown in and out of DCA my whole life (I grew up in DC). I am usually a nervous flyer (mostly on landing), but I really hate landing there – I have always said it is a short runway with water on both ends, and I fear the plane not being able to stop in time. Thanks for confirming my fears. I think I will go with BWI from now on! A longer drive to/from my destination, but well worth it!

  64. the actual quote for dirty harry is “ask yourself one question do I feel lucky, well do you… punk” come on get it right

  65. Chris, in general I agree with the premise of your post. Many airports these days are squeezed in to locations that perhaps they shouldn’t or are old enough that the advances in modern airliners make them less than ideal to operate to and from.

    However, I think some of the points you make are misleading and sensationalistic. Your math is just ludicrous as has been pointed out already (don’t forget to consider the wing dihedral too!) and should really be edited out of your post. For example in an Airbus A320, during touchdown, you would need 20 degrees of bank to strike the wingtip. Admittedly a 320 sits slightly higher than a 737, but still, I doubt the figures are dramatically different and you seem concerned that you might strike something at 200’…?

    I agree with your point that the runway is on the shorter side of comfortable and a sidestep to the even shorter runway would be a brave move. I know all too well what “wind calm” or “light and variable” really means and I think it’s a sound decision to disappear off to Dulles in less than ideal weather. It’s a shame to hear that passengers are unhappy you just saved them from going for a swim off the end of the runway.

    But there are shorter fields out there with equally if not more challenging approaches, for example take a look at the circling approach runway 08 at Innsbruck or Gibraltar Visual App 09 or even Nice VOR 22R/L. They can all be done and are fun on CAVOK days. I disagree with your statement that “it goes without saying that if pilots shouldn’t fly there” just as you say, know your weather limits before you make the approach and stick to them!

    • Yours is an argument of relativism: “there are shorter runways and more dangerous approaches–so DCA isn’t that bad.”

      We disagree, and I base my position on doing it for a living. It’s okay to disagree, IMO, and on your blog, your opinion would carry the day.

  66. LOL I love how you outline everything, and with detailed pictures 🙂

  67. I adore you for writing this. I am always interested in these things even as a flight attendant, it’s so interesting to understand the physics and risks we take every day for 10-12 hours. Like, gotta love MDW for not having a long enough runway to take off if you lose an engine…woo hoo!

  68. Just a little FYI: Metro to Dulles is not available yet and the commute is a serious pain whether in your car or cab. Its hard to get out of DC.

  69. As a passenger I would NEVER question a diversion or delay due to weather or mechanical questions. You guys know how to fly these things – I don’t. Some people have some kind of nerve to second guess a pilot or tower.
    Personally I want kiss the entire crew once we reach the ground, rough landing or not.
    Thanks for your blog!

  70. Hmm, DCA is my “home” airport and I’ve NEVER been diverted to Dulles under any circumstance. I fly into/out of National (we Washingtonians just don’t call it Reagan National!!!) quite frequently and have never been afraid when landing/taking off. Yes, I am a passenger – but I must say, landing there at night is one of the more beautiful things I look forward to when flying – the reflection of the lights on the water – stunning! Save the 1982 outbound Memorial Bridge incident and that inbound bi-plane crash of a few years ago, I can’t think of any incidents that come to mind that demonstrate the airport being less safe… It’s funny, NTSB hasn’t shut it down.

    I personally prefer to fly to/from DCA as it is truly Metro-accessible (the Metro does not yet extend all the way to IAD – and the Metrobus that currently services IAD runs inconveniently every hour) and IAD is just not a passenger-friendly airport. I will say – I abhor flying from Terminal A – not because it’s old – but because it’s so dang far from the Metro…

    Hope your next experience is better than you’ve described.

    • The NTSB doesn’t regulate–just recommends.

      Fine if you’re comfortable as a passenger going into National (I can’t call it anything else either). What I wrote is my perspective as a pilot with 31 years of experience. You can discount that if you like–that’s your business.

  71. Chris, great post, first time reader, really enjoyed reading it and laughed too out of the truth. I also sent it to two CFI friends who teach in Leesburg, VA, JYO, nw of dulles. Many talks of dca have ensued over time and my question to you is one of those high density altitude days in july/august in d.c. as it pertains to takeoff distance on that short runway. with a heavy aircraft, extremely hot and humid days, and a seriously short runway for your big plane, I’d consider that a danger as well to possible over runs, engine outs, or accelerate stop distances? can you speak to this at all? Thanks! -future reader joe.

  72. I say tear up DCA and build more residences. Eliminate the hazard is the best solution to prevent even just one death/injury. Congressmen and Senators don’t like the roller coaster ride all that much either.

  73. We always liked the convenience of flying into DCA but we’ll keep that in mind next time.

  74. I’ll understand better what you’re saying if you tell me how DCA compares with Tegucigalpa (Honduras). I wish I had read this before I just booked yet another shuttle flight into National.

    • I have purposely stayed out of Honduras, although my aircraft from my crew base flies there directly. But the crime rate plus the the terrain and approaches have made it a place I avoid–so I can’t compare Tegucigalpa to DC, thankfully!

  75. I prefer taking the Greyhound to Washington.

  76. I am a very infrequent flyer so it is nice to know the technical reasons why not to go to a certain airport. I thought that it was an easy to understand and nicely detailed blog, especially since I have zero flying experience other than to have ridden in a jet a couple of times. Congrats on FP! AmberLena

  77. *GI Joe theme music* And knowing is half the battle. Seriously I know nothing about flying other then sitting on my ass in the back. However I’m geeky enough to enjoy reads like this. Thanks.
    And yah. If I ever have to fly into Washington….now I know.

  78. This was a very interesting post. As an often pax I just wanted to thank you for thinking about safety first, and diverting to an alternate airport when you so much as think the landing may be unsafe.

    We put a lot of trust in pilots every time we fly, and I’m always happy when I hear about them not taking unnecessary risks and doing what they can to keep up safe.

    I hope to end up as a passenger on one of your flights someday!

  79. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your webpage? My blog site is in the exact same area of interest as yours and my visitors would definitely benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this okay with you. Thanks a lot!

  80. Selim Tavlla Says:

    A pilot saying “you should NEVER fly into DCA” has no business being a pilot

    To stringfellow573 saying: “I say tear up DCA and build more residences”. Indeed. As a matter of fact let’s do the same thing for IAD, BWI and all the other airports. It’s a lot safer that way. Heck, let’s not move out of the couch for that matter. That’s even safer.

    • And what are your credentials for making such a judgement on who should or shouldn’t be a pilot?

      I’m only speaking out of my experience after 20+ years as an airline captain and over 17,000 flight hours, plus having hand-flown the approach a couple dozen times.

      But I agree with you on one point: it would be best for all concerned if you don’t “move out of the couch.”

      • If you really are an airline pilot,you just defined yourself.
        You “hand flew a couple dozen times into DCA”. Wow,what a testimony to expierence. My God,you’ve got to be a nervous nellie if the autopilot won’t engage. You must fly an Airbus because they were made for people who can’t fly.
        I remember guys like you who would have sweat under their armpits before startup. Do you sit in the seat and pump your leg too ?
        Now here you are making passengers afraid for absolutely no reason
        A real airline pilot you ain’t !

      • Busted: I’m not really an airline pilot, I’m a tire salesman in Duluth. Just don’t tell the 2,000 to 3,000 passengers I fly each year; might make their “armpits sweat.”

        You certainly are one clever if bitter old man, Tom Sage.

        If you need snow tires, c’mon in, we’ll make you a deal.

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  81. I can absolutely relate to number one – I was actually just talking about this the other day, and how both airports remind me so much of each other. Great post!

  82. ONE accident is not a bad record. if pilots don’t feel comfortable landing then they should go to dulles or back to training. I think they have planes follow the potomac river as a guideline…

  83. Brian Holmes Says:

    I enjoyed your piece immensely. I think your writing style is superb. You were able to get your points and information across to non-professionals while not alienating your professional pilot readers.

    I live in the DC area, so I’ll be remembering what you’ve written about DCA. As a glider (sailplane) pilot, I can relate a little bit to what you’ve written. Fortunately, I don’t expect I’ll ever be piloting into DCA (grin) and my few flights as passenger have been out of IAD and BWI.

    Now I’ll have to go and have a look at your other articles. Thanks for taking the time and effort to publish.

    • Thanks for reading! And sailplanes are one aircraft type I’ve always wanted to fly. Maybe some day. On on hand, sometimes I think I may have used up all of my flying luck and karma on jets–so maybe I should leave it at that. But sailplanes look so enticing. That would be real, graceful flight rather than the brute force of jet thrust.

      One of these days . . .

  84. Good post, excellent points, and the reason, even though I live 8 minutes from National, I fly out of Dulles… Thanks for the honesty!

  85. It’s really cool and touch for your sharing !

  86. Reblogged this on People IN and commented:
    Nice post,

  87. LOVE the River Visual! It’s my fav’ along with JFK’s VOR 13L! It’s the only time a bored airline pilot gets a challenge, lol!

    PS–Likin’ your blog. Found it when I started my own, at http://capnaux.blogspot.com/. Drop by some time, JetHead!

    • Yup, it’s fun for us as pilots–heading for LGA this afternoon, hoping the wind gods favor the Expressway Visual there.

      I checked out your blog: looks like some interesting stories, but I can’t read the white print scrolling over the multi-colored background.

      Meanwhile, welcome aboard.

  88. Surely you can’t be serious. All pilots are trained to limits in excess of anything you do on either of these approaches. Anyone who buys into your fear mongering or fear of flying, whichever it is, obviously has the fear themselves. And I agree, if you are hesitant about these approaches, you should notify your check airman that you need additional training in these areas.

    • Yes, I’m serious. And I seriously doubt your common sense when you consider operating at or near the limits to be either routine or prudent.

      Your lack of common sense and excess of arrogance might find a warm reception among like-minded fools on your blog–but not likely on mine.

      Good luck with that.

    • Rich,

      Dude, get a grip–you pop in here, don’t know what you’re talking about, have no background either with this blog or in flying, then expect anyone to see you as other than a blowhard?

      Wonder what else you don’t know.

  89. As a passenger the main thing I do for airline travel saftey these days is to always fly on American Airlines.

  90. Good response Chris.
    This morning I walked to my limits on an icy pavement.
    I landed on my ass.
    Limits are just that. LIMITS.

  91. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. There is an airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras that’s so short they reverse the engines to slow down. I won’t attempt to spell the name of the place. It’s built on a mesa, so they can’t extend the runway. Last time I landed there, it was in a plane with two propellers and pistons. Now, I’m told, they land jets there and when the plane comes to rest, everybody cheers. I’d suggest flying in to San Pedro Sula and surfacing to Tegucigalpa.

    • I had a Spanish teacher from Honduras and he told us about that airport. There is a road at the end of the runway that they close as planes come in just in case the plane comes in too low. People in the back of trucks have been killed by planes on the road – at least that’s what he told us.

  92. I’ve flown the Tegucigalpa route and will never ever do so again…Why in the world did they build an airport there? It should be titled a heliport! My regular route is in and out of DCA…based here, have to admit, all of us FA’s look at the crewlist and look for our DCA guys to be taking us in…;-)

  93. This specific post is how I first found your blog – based on a google search after my first time landing at DCA – accustomed to ORD, LAX, JFK approaches myself, the last low altitude turn seemed odd at best, downright scary at worst.

    Anyway – per your post, and being an AA EXP, what are my other options? AA flies into both BWI and IAD, but it looks like it’s usually or always CRJ. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve read and seen other news stories that seem to cast doubt on the safety of the regional carriers, primarily in the context that the pilots are younger, less experienced, usually overworked, and making even less than already under-paid major carrier pilots.

  94. DCA is easy. I love the visual to 19 and usually I aim to take the intersection before rwy 4 and go back to the gate. Big jets have big brakes and they stop well, I don’t even need the reverser. Flew the shuttle for years, love flying in there and the visual to 31 in LGA.

    Smooth, easy and fun for everyone involved. You can’t beat that and I don’t know why anyone with experience could ever fret about my beloved DCA.

    • Everyone has an opinion, and your terminology “my beloved DCA” plus “fun for everyone involved” tells me you have a different, more emotional perspective about airline flying than I do. I really don’t have any beloved airports and “fun for everyone” isn’t really on my priority list in the cockpit.

  95. Funny how you think flying that “thick wing prop job” is easier than today’s swept wing jets. I have flown both and while I tremendously loved the DC-3, I would rather be flying a jet into DCA, or anyplace else for that matter. Landing the 3 in 40 kt xwinds in blowing snow and having ice build up on the boots on a radial engine “prop job” is a lot more challenging to manage than today’s dumb jets that anyone can be trained to fly. I bet you went to Riddle.

    • Not even close: my flight training and experience before the past 27 (and counting) with American was all USAF, UPT than 6 years in the Pacific. And I am on the adjunct faculty of Embry-Riddle (see “about”) but teaching English–composition, tech writing and literature–to undergrads, not aviation.

      You’re also taking my comments the wrong way: DCA was perfect for the prop aircraft, and vice versa. Judging from your comments “dumb jets” indicates more emotion than rational thinking, as does the idea of landing in a “40 knot crosswind in blowing snow.” Good luck with that.

  96. Chris you seem like the kind of pilot who has all his pencils sharpened prior to departure.

    • Are you kidding? Safety first: spray paint or crayons.

      BTW, kind of creepy that you’re trying to envision what you’d be like if you were me. You’re really not very good at that–or at satisfying that ego-stroking art of having fun at others’ expense.

      Lower expectations would be the key to relative success, in your case. No offense.

      • No offense Chris, but it looks like I hit the target.

      • That was never the question; yes, you’ve verified that any idiot can hit the “target.” It’s having an effect that matters, but like your fantasizing about being me, that too is completely and solely in your mind only.

        Kind of telling that you have a “fantasy” email address to hide behind; ultimately, Ed has a touch of the “pussy” in him.

      • Don’t worry about the mysterious “Ed”. Not everyone on Airline Pilot Central is as biased as he is. You know the old saying about flying, and it applies to writing as well: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t . . . gripe about those who do.”

        Keep up the great blog, I’ll be visiting regularly!

      • Thanks! I’m pretty sure that’s the last we’ll hear of “Special Ed.” You’re right, he really “can’t.”

        Welcome aboard, consider subscribing.

  97. Just scanning your podcast list, I’ve read the astronauts book now I want to hear him on your podcast! The WAAF pilot too. Looks like I’m going to be hear a while.

  98. Scott Jones Says:

    Thanks for the post Captain, I’ll take your advice. Even though I love to fly in challenging environments, I had no idea the approach is so dangerous.

    Enjoy your blog, keep up the good work!

  99. Joseph Mowery Says:

    I quit flying out of DCA. RIC is now my airport of choice. I will try my best not to be on the next plane to the 14th St. bridge.

  100. Potomac Approach Controller Says:

    Good read. I enjoy working DCA arrivals and departures. Last month the airport surpassed IAD in passenger count and set a new all time monthly high. The field is alive and well and the crews are always sharp. Keep up the good work.

  101. You’re a skilled writer and pilot, but I agree with others, you’ve sensationalized and exaggerated the ‘dangers’ of KDCA. It does demand more skill, professionalism, discipline, and judgement from pilots than other airports do, but that is why we like it! Dealing with discomfort and anxiety has been the pilot’s realm since day one, satisfaction comes in dealing with these conditions and being victorious over the challenges presented, nothing wrong with that at all.
    So you didn’t land with a tailwind on 33, fine, what about 15 that night with a headwind? Incidentally I landed on 15 in AA’s 737 jumpseat one night during that 1/19 construction, piece of cake for the Captain using the autobrakes.
    The airport isn’t perfect. I’m most concerned about no wig-wag runway lights at all at KDCA, it is at a prime risk for a runway incursion now and into the future.

    • Interesting that you claim the “we” voice (why “we” like DCA) from the jump seat (piece of cake landing 15–from the jumpseat?) and clearly, without any credibility or practical experience. Of course we “thought about” landing on 15 instead of 33, but anyone who ever actually flew into DCA (jumpseat or passenger cabin excluded) knows that asking Potomoc Approach to land against traffic with a half dozen jets lined up the other direction would be pretty pointless–and laughable for everyone else on freq.

      Most of your objections are based on what you like to hear, rather than on what I expressed based on experience. You can change the former, but that latter stands regardless.

  102. Jon Stern Says:

    I respect your opinions, but it seems anyone who offers opinions that differ from yours gets no respect . . .

    • Here’s the deal: my blog offers my opinion. That’s kind of what a blog does, and unlike a forum, this isn’t a debate. I don’t really envision my blog as a place to negotiate different opinions. Agree? Disagree? Fine.

      • Jon Stern Says:

        It’s your blog and therefore your call. Agree. But the reply buttons do invite replies, and I would appreciate it if you would post the entirety of my reply, not an edited version.

      • If the “reply” button justifies replies, what do you suppose the “edit” justifies?

  103. Those that can, do. Those that can’t, go somewhere else.

  104. DAve Wood Says:

    Was a Controller there for many years prior to 9/11, you could really complain when you were one of 90 aircraft and hour versus now being 1 of 20 an hour.

    • Wow–a landing every 36 seconds! Guess they just didn’t do take offs in those days. And I’m sure it was larger then, so 90, or after 2 hours, 180 aircraft could maneuver on the ground.
      Probably had more gates, too.

      It would be tough to sequence them back out again, but I suppose you could clear one for takeoff 18 seconds after the prievous arrival, which would leave him at least 18 seconds to lift off before the next arrival landed.

      I’ve been flying into DCA since 1985; not sure how the traffic jumped to 90/hour or why it hasn’t gone back to that rate in the decade since, but it’s better this way, I think.

      • Controller Says:

        He’s correct with that number. If you’ve been flying since 85 you surely remember what the GA ramp at DCA used to look like and how busy 4/20 15/33 were.

      • Controller Says:


        GA to DCA needs to be almost unrestricted again.

  105. DC business traveler Says:

    I’d rather put my life in the hands of an airline pilot landing at DCA and then take a 10 minute train ride to D.C., rather than flying into Dulles or BWI and then for the next 45 minutes to 1.5 hours (depending on traffic) entrusting my life to a cab driver and other drivers on the DC metro area highways.

  106. anchorwatchmedia Says:

    So just to be clear…you’re saying if your monthly bid package came in with a DCA trip, you’d decline it? Nnnnnnnnot sure I believe that.

    • My “bid package” doesn’t “come in;” I bid my choices, which don’t include DCA for several practical reasons (for example, delays and curfew).

      There’s nothing to accept or “decline,” and this month was all SEA turns, last month BOS turns, and next month I’m flying BOS and LGA turns.

      You can believe whatever you want–doesn’t affect me or my schedule either way.

  107. anchorwatchmedia Says:

    Maybe I’m understanding incorrectly. While I have a degree in aviation and am a CFII/AGI, etc, etc, I’ve never flown 121. But I thought that even if you were further up the seniority list, you can indeed bid what you want but could theoretically NOT get what you wanted. If that is the case, couldn’t you then be assigned to DCA, and, to my original point, I’m asking if you would legitimately decline it for “safety of flight.”

    Additionally, and I’m not trying to be glib, for reasons I’m not going to post in public fora, I happen to be a DCA expert. Thus, I can assure you that despite popular (and popularily WRONG) public interpretation, DCA does NOT in any way, shape, or form, operate under a “curfew.”

    • Your DCA “expertise” notwithstanding, there is a curfew for non-Stage 3 aircraft such as the MD-80.

    • Carlos XIII Says:

      Like you, there are reasons why *I* won’t “post in a public fora” or a public bathroom, but I also happen to be a DC expert–and the King of Spain! Mum’s the word, right? Shhhhhhh.

  108. DCA is completely safe. I’ve landed B737 and A320’s on EVERY runway there (except Rwy 4).

    I’ve been in there after declaring an emergency on Rwy 15 (blown windshield).

    I’ve circled from Rwy 1 to 33 tons of times and watched bigger airplanes do that without incident.

    We blew the approach to 19 and landed 22, that was exciting but worked just fine.

    LGA IS also safe and fun, MDW IS cool, both depend on what seat you’re in and which way you’re circling.

    If the wx is challenging, the FO should not do the Expressway visual to 31 at LGA. If you circling to the north at MDW, the FO should land.

    Quit freaking people out. It’s all good if you know what you’re doing.

    • Only a fool or an idiot would cite “blown approaches” and using DCA for an emergency landing when Dulles is within a few minutes of flying as good judgement.

      And if the weather is “challenging,” there are no Expressway Visual approaches at LGA–the mins are 3000′, plus if you feel your F/O “should” land at MDW, you don’t belong in the left seat.

      Like your “blog” ( beccaholiday.wordpress.com ) you’re essentially completely without substance.

  109. Honestly, I have flown into most of the airports mentioned (DCA, LGA, SNA) and though they all require you to be diligent none of them I would consider remotely dangerous. Definitely no reason to avoid them.

  110. Captain Kit Baker, EAL, AQ Retired Says:

    There are a lot of “ifs”, “maybes” and “mights” and mights her but what is fact is that me and my colleagues still flying have had an unparalleled safety record at this airport. Now I can only speak to my 21 years in and out of Reagan from 1968 to 1989 but things have been going pretty well since then. I might add that I’ll take going in and out of Reagan over Maui, Hawaii any day.

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