United Investing Millions Of Other People’s Money To Improve Washington-Dulles Airport

a building with a tower and clouds in the background

United Airlines and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) have had an interesting relationship over the years.  Under the previous United CEO, Jeff Smisek, there was an unwillingness to invest in Washington-Dulles Airport to improve their facilities.  United operates out of the C/D concourse, which was due to be a temporary concourse, as well as part of the A concourse.  They don’t occupy any of the renovated A concourse, just a small subsection for their regional jet fleet.

Back in 2016 United got $50 million from the state of Virginia (via the airport authority) to keep their hub at Dulles.  Since then, United has made some moves that increase Dulles traffic.  They also started moving more connecting traffic from Newark to Dulles.  But, they haven’t really invested too much in their facilities at IAD.

Sure, they replaced some carpet in the lounges.  But, the gate areas haven’t seen much in the way of a refresh.  You’ll still struggle to find a place to charge your phone or laptop in many places throughout the C and D concourse.  The airport renovated the bathrooms recently and also upgraded a number of the food options, so things are a bit better out in the C/D concourse.  There’s plenty of room for growth at Dulles, and there appear to be new signs that United will expand just a little and dress up the old girl they’ve been dancing with at C/D.

United To Expand Concourse For Polaris Lounge

Live and Let’s Fly reports on a proposed new agreement between United Airlines and MWAA to build a United Polaris Lounge at Dulles.  Polaris is the new business class product that United started rolling out two years ago.  The Polaris lounges are an extension of that effort at United hubs around the US.  The Polaris lounge at Newark Airport is quite lovely.

Under this new agreement, United would spend up to roughly $34 million to build out just the infrastructure to support a new club.  MWAA would reimburse them for those expenses.  Then, United would be on the hook for the furnishing of the lounge.  There’s a map of the proposed location.

a drawing of a building

If you’re not familiar with this area of Dulles, the vast majority of the green area doesn’t exist right now.  Here are a few shots from this evening that show the area.

people walking in a airport

Halfway down this hallway on the left is the proposed entrance to the Polaris lounge, right across from the C17 lounge.

a room with glass doors and a carpeted floor
Existing C17 United Club
a room with blue doors and a screen
That Christmas Tree Will Need To Make Way For Polaris….

Other than this office, the rest of the Polaris lounge will be new construction outside the building.  You can see in this picture outside that the jet bridge in the background of the picture will border the new structure.

cars parked cars in a parking lot
Exterior Where The Proposed Polaris Lounge Would Go

If you were standing next to one of those vans, you’d be looking in the windows of the United Club at C17.  There’s some talk of the construction including improvements to other facilities in the concourse.  That could mean improving the midfield customs facility United has at their disposal.  And, it could also include expanding the United Club.  If it doesn’t include an expansion of the club, it means that club loses all the windows and natural light.  That’s not a huge loss, since it’s not exactly a bright and spacious layout currently.

The Final Two Pennies

As Matthew notes in his post, this certainly makes it less likely the C/D concourse is disappearing anytime soon.  But, the renovations of the bathrooms and restaurants were a pretty big hint on that already.  Dulles has plenty of international departures and lots of connecting passengers to those destinations.  The lounges are drastically undersized and the concourse itself is nowhere near capacity.  This Polaris lounge won’t be the largest.  But, it should provide some relief from overcrowding of the other lounges.  And, if it’s completed at the same finish level as the other existing Polaris lounges, it’ll be a big positive for the experience at IAD.

MWAA is still a disaster and there don’t appear to be any plans to lower the operating costs for airlines at Dulles. JetBlue is walking away completely, which is a shame.  For at least the next few years, United appears poised to maintain their firm grip on pricing while investing just a bit of money to improve the overall experience.  United has convinced MWAA to build them the space they need.  I’m pretty sure the MWAA will find a way to pass that buck on to travelers.

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  1. The only airport authority that is more incompetent and corrupt than the MWAA is the PANYNJ, the folks who bring you $30 tolls and 3rd world airports. (Where does all that money go???) Both are quasi-government entities with no elected officials and no accountability. See a pattern here?

    You would have thought that United Airlines would have wanted a CBP clearance facility in the C/D concourse if they want to connect international passengers at IAD without shipping them by moon buggy to the Main Terminal and back.

    Now that the MWAA has driven out Jet Blue with $20+ enplanement fees and $600 per square foot rent, at least United will be able to double or triple prices on flights to New York and Boston to help pay for their fancy new Polaris lounge.

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