Some airports needlessly receive a bad wrap and Washington Dulles is one of them. IAD is often attacked by United flyers for the unsightly “temporary” terminal that has now been present for more than two decades. It’s true — the United terminal is ugly — but international connections at Washington Dulles are a breeze. I made it from plane to plane in less than 15 minutes last night…including immigration and customs. Try that in Chicago or New York, even with Global Entry and no bags.
When you arrive at Washington Dulles on a United flight, you have two options — customers connecting head left and downstairs to the midfield immigration and customs facility while customers ending their travel in Washington hop into a “mobile lounge” (i.e. moon buggy) and are taken to the Main Terminal for processing and baggage delivery.
The midfield facility does get busy during the bank of early morning and afternoon arrivals, but even when crowded the wait is no worse than any major airport and often better. During evening times, like tonight, the facility was totally empty. If you have Global Entry, there is a never a wait.
At Washington Dulles, the immigration officer you initially deal with handles both immigration and customs, meaning there is no second line to leave the facility.
After collecting baggage, you proceed into a large security checkpoint where you are screened again. There is no Pre-Check lane, but there is a priority line for premium class and Star Gold passengers and no boarding passes are checked. Agents are typically good about moving the lines fast.
Past security is an escalator that spills out right at C7…you are back on the secure side and if traveling on United, just a walk from your connecting gate. If you are traveling on another carrier, you can take the train to Terminal A, B, or Z which is a short walk from where you come out of the immigration hall.
Even during its busiest periods, I find the way IAD is organized to be beneficial to the connecting traveler and continue to benefit immensely from it.
Yesterday I returned home from Germany via Washington to Los Angeles. Usually I fly via Chicago or Newark, which takes much longer to make it from gate to gate (especially being forced to take the train in Chicago O’Hare).
My plane left Frankfurt at 5pm and was due in at 8pm into Washington Dulles. With light evening traffic out of Frankfurt, we were in the air just minutes after 5pm and landed 43 minutes early.
My connection to LA was not until 10:30p but I saw there was an 8:30p which I knew I would easily make and quickly re-confirmed myself on the United iPhone app. I noticed as well there was a flight leaving at 7:53p that I could potentially make it. It would be worth a try!
I sprinted out of my seat, down the long and narrow windowed hallway to the immigration facility and found myself the only passenger in the room. I quickly proceeded through Global Entry, had my passport checked by an official, then briskly walked toward the security checkpoint. There were only a couple others in line and I was through in under two minutes, even though I had to remove my shoes, coat, and belt (no PreCheck there).
Upstairs, I briskly walked from C7 and D1 and easily made the 7:53p flight, which was still boarding. I had made it from plane to plane — an international to domestic connection — in 15 minutes.
I may be a United flyer, but I’ve entered the USA through HNL, LAX, SFO, SEA, DEN, DFW, IAH, ORD, ATL, MIA, CLT, PHL, JFK, EWR, and BOS. Even airports that are quite good (like SFO or LAX if you are connecting United to United) are not as good as Washington Dulles.
Scheduling does not always permit me to travel via Dulles but I guess I am one of those few United elites who counts IAD as his favorite hub. The ease of international connections are a big reason why.
Leaving Frankfurt, Germany at 5pm and home at 10pm with a stop. Not bad!
If you were checking bags, would you still have been able to switch to the earlier flight? Also, to get the 7:53 flight after confirming yourself onto the 8:30, did you just approach the desk during boarding? (I’ve always found the agents to be quite busy during boarding.)
With bags, I would have been okay on the 8:30p but not the 7:53p.
I just approached the desk…there were three agents working (compared to LAX/SFO/ORD, IAD seems to have more agents as well) and one was very happy to move me. Took just a few seconds.
Unfortunately my connecting experience wasn’t nearly as smooth, though this was from BA to AA. The midfield facility wasn’t an option; everyone had to hop on the moon buggy and head to the main hall. Without GE or PreCheck at the time, gate to gate took an hour and 21 minutes. AA tried to force us onto a 1 hour 35 minute layover after a schedule change; I refused and asked for the next flight, which I’m glad I did. We would have made it, but just barely, with 4 minutes to spare before the door closed. Connecting on UA might be smoother since they operate out of the midfield terminal, but I don’t think I’d voluntarily pick IAD as a connecting point on a different set of airlines based on my last experience.
On the other hand, I have to disagree with the hate towards those moon buggies. Those are really cool in my opinion.
Is it possible to use the midfield immigration facility if you are not connecting? What are your options if you decide not to go through security after you have entered the USA?
I guess you could if you weren’t checking bags. At Dulles, your bags go to the midcourse if you’re connecting and to the main terminal if you’re not.
FWIW, I only flew United from BCN to IAD. The ticket continued to EWR (it was much cheaper that way). I was processed at the midfield concourse and when I went to leave past the place where they recheck your bags, I said I needed to bag in Washington. They said I couldn’t bring the bag outside myself but they would send it to baggage claim at the main facility. When I arrived there, my bag was there, too.
Maybe good for clearing imagration & connecting, but IAD sucks for domestic United connections, particularly if you have to walk to use the tram.
Hi Matthew, I’m contemplating to fly Austrian into IAD then connect to LGA with checked bags. Will I still be able to access the LH or the new TK lounge during my 2 hour layover? I suppose I’d still have to pick up my bags and recheck to LGA? Alternatively I could do the same to fly Austrian to ORD connect to LGA. What would you suggest?
Matthew, glad you had a good connecting experience at IAD.
For us poor souls who have to fly in and out of IAD, it’s a less smooth experience. International arrivals is never pleasant, even with Global Entry. Last week the line to exit the baggage claim had to be 500 people (the Global Entry line had about 30), so while I made it off the moon buggy and through customs quickly, I still had to wait to escape the terminal.
I live closer to BWI, so I wish I had more options from there to get to Europe (without connecting in YYZ on AC or LHR on BA). I guess Condor counts, but doesn’t earn many miles.
@John: You can use it, but you would be forced to go through security, then take the train back to the Main Terminal in order to exit
@Barry: I realize the walk can be annoying, but you have the Lufthansa and BA lounges in Terminal B which are two more reasons, IMO, to choose Dulles
@Nick: I once lived in DC too and flew more out of IAD than DCA or BWI when I did. Indeed, Dulles is not perfect, but I think for those living in the NoVa area it is tough to beat and once the Silver Line extension is complete, IAD will be even more attractive.
I think Dulles is underrated, at least since the renovations and the AirTran. It is the old, tired C/D terminal (and run-down UA clubs there) and the long walk from the AirTran (since they built it under where the new C/D is supposed to go some day in the future, maybe) that still drag down its reputation. The new, sunny A/B gates with their much better LH, AF and BA clubs are nice to fly out of.
By the way, I had the same experience as Nick last week. No line at GE kiosk (though a number were not working), baggage speed was about as usual (my priority luggage tag apparently means everyone gets priority over me), but there were huge lines to go through the last customs inspection where they look at your passport one last time before you exit to the main hall and take your little GE slip of paper, including 30 or so in the GE line. I thought that was weird. In fact, the agent doing GE was also processing people in wheelchairs and the like, so he was even slower than the regular line, and I saw people in the regular lines get out faster than me. It was not helped by that the GE line is not well marked, so many people in it were not GE.
I arrived at IAD on UA from FRA on 1/1/2017, with a domestic connection. After going thru the GE kiosk process, the path led back a CBP officer station, who requested to see and stamp my (German) passport – 1st time ever since I had GE that that happened. I inquired with her about a paper slip to skip the customs line, but was told the process had changed for passengers arriving with connections. That seems to be consistent with what you stated about the CBP officer handling both immigration and customs (even though, at that point, you haven’t actually picked up your bag to walk it through customs?).
Do you happen to know whether that is the new procedure at all ports of entry, or is it specific to IAD? Cheers and happy travels.
In my experience, it is only at Dulles. I have recently gone through immigration in Chicago, New York JFK, Newark, and San Francisco and not experienced that.
When using the mid-field immigration center (I never knew where that other line went!), do you still collect your bags and then re-check them like you would at the main customs checkpoint? The reason I’m asking is that I’m considering using IAD as a hidden city (LHR-IAD-EWR is much cheaper than LHR-IAD) but if I check my bags, I want to be able to walk out with them.
Thanks – I live in DC so I’ve never transferred through IAD – sounds like a great system.
You still pick up bags, but there is no way to take them with you since you in the midfield facility you go through a security checkpoint and then are emptied back into the concourse. You’re in a difficult position.
I had the same thing happen to me. The bag rechecker rep will send your bags to the main baggage claim area for you. It didn’t seem like it was a big deal!
I’ll be arriving at IAD from Ottawa at 4:19pm at Gate D32 and leaving for Geneva from Gate D5 at 5:30pm. Will I have enough time? I have checked luggage. Will these be checked through to Geneva in Ottawa? I know that you go through U.S. Customs in Ottawa. Many thanks!
If your flight is on time, you’ll be to Gate D5 by 4:35p, with time to spare before boarding your Geneva flight.
What if I’m flying in from Phila to Dulles with a tight connection onto Cancun all on united? Can I make that in one hour? Do I need to go thru customs in Dulles?
No customs in Dulles since it is just a domestic to domestic connection. You should be fine as long as the flights are on time.
So, there’s no pre-check line getting back through security in the international/united terminal at dulles? I’m looking at a flight from Cancun to Norfolk connecting through Dulles a few days before Christmas and I’m worried that 1.5 hours may not be enough time, even with GE, for me to clear customs and re-enter security to board to Norfolk if lines are crazy with weather/holiday travel. With pre-check, I wouldn’t be concerned. Am I overthinking it?
There is not.
There is a Pre Check line now
Yes, I noticed that too. A nice addition.
Matthew, this seems almost unreal. I have avoided IAD as the plague since a painful international-to-domestic transfer a couple of years ago, including an immigration line that seemed to go on forever. So, IF I understand you correctly, all Star Alliance flights (I am flying into IAD on Scandinavian Airlines) can use the facility at the C concourse (I am traveling forward – with checked luggage – on a United Express flight)…??? I don’t dare to put my hopes up but I have 2h05min for my connection in IAD in January. Anything to avoid the wait for the Mad Max Buses and the subsequent lines at international arrivals… 😉
I believe it’s when arriving on a UA international flight.
Hi just reading these comments with great interest, I’m fly to u.s twice a year and this time have a connecting flight from mco to Dulles with 50mins transfer time to Heathrow a 4 year old and 3 suitcases to check in !
Shall I get my hotel now !!!
If your flight is on time, you will be fine. Otherwise, be prepared to stay overnight or be re-routed.
Matthew, thanks for your post. I’m travelling tomorrow with my family from London to Cancun through Dulles with a 1 hour 15 layover. I see from the various posts that we’ll have to clear immigration and collect bags at main terminal before rechecking them – is it then quick to get back to C gates from there to get our connecting flight.
I don’t believe you will need to go to Main Terminal and 1hr15min will not be enough time if you do. But if you go to the midfield concourse, your bags should arrive there, you can quickly re-check them, then continue through security and upstairs to the United terminal to catch your flight to Cancun. That is all possible in 1hr15min if immigration lines are not long.
Thanks Matthew – I’ll let you know if we make it…!
All went well – it’s a great connection through Dulles if you’re United the whole way. We had 40 minutes to spare.
Matthew: This is a valuable piece you have posted!
I need your advice and counsel on a trip I am planning for next September (2018)–two U.S. citizens flying on United from Lisbon with an international connection at IAD before catching a United domestic flight home to California. We will have 2 checked bags and must pass through customs/immigration before catching our United flight to California. Our international flight will arrive at 3:30 p.m. (IAD time), but there is only 1 hour and 52 minutes scheduled between both United flights. An alternative route for us would be to go through EWR for the international connection with a much longer layover time. (We would much prefer IAD over EWR as our connecting airport).
Your thoughts about making our international stopover at IAD with time for us to get a quick snack on the way to our second United flight?
JMC – IAD is my home airport and I wouldn’t have any concerns if they are on the same ticket. It’s a risk you have to take, but I’d expect you to be fine. Even with the horrible people mover things, I can get through in 45 min or so, and since you are connecting you won’t have to deal with that.
If you are booking your own tickets then the cost of a misconnect is higher.
I’d also consider when the next flight is. Most of the time, if you misconnect you can get on the following one. If your flight to Cali is the last of the day, then the downside risk is a night in a hotel.
Personally, I’d take my chances and not worry at all. If there were other options after my flight and it was all on one ticket, I might even push it tighter
Many thanks! Yes, all of our flights will be on the same ticket.
My experiences at IAD (though I have never had to go through customs/immigration there) have always been positive, largely because coupling United flights has never been a problem (the gates are always relatively close together).
Thanks for your input. I know it’s a gamble, but I’d rather gamble at IAD than at EWR (where we have had not so pleasant connection experiences)!
My return flight from Morocco lands at 4:15PM on a Thursday and our flight back to Texas is at 5:15PM. Flying United. Do you think that is enough time to get through customs and make it to our gate?
These comments / experiences are so helpful.
I am looking at a flight Oct 9 from Ottawa (YOW) to Orlando (MCO) with only a 40 minute layover at Dulles. Ottawa is a pre-cleared US customs airport and I will be travelling with carry-on only. Such a short layover seems too risky to me. The Ottawa flight arrives at 7:35 a.m. (currently gate D32) and the Orlando flight leaves at 8:15 am (currently gate D1)
When does boarding beging before a flight? When do they close the doors for boarding?
Any advice is much appreciated.
Boarding begins 30-40 minutes before (depending upon aircraft size) and ends 10 minutes before scheduled departure. You should be fine. The new “banking” system is specifically set up for you to make these type of connections.
We are arriving into Dulles from London, and making a connection to Cancun. Must we collect baggage and run through Customs before rechecking for Cancun? United said 1 hr and 20 minutes is plenty of time for connection. Do you agree?
You will need to collect baggage, but it will come to the midfield concourse. 1hr, 20min should be enough time.
What a valuable thread I stumbled upon! I’m booking a flight to Rome from Houston on United with a change in IAD in a layover of 1.5 hours. I was concerned about it and contemplating taking an earlier flight and just living with a longer layover. Now I feel pretty confident!
I think you’ll have no issue as long as your flight is on-time or only delayed slightly. Have a great trip!
I’m Canadian, and two weeks ago I was at Dulles airport. I’ve found the airport well organized and easy to find my way around. In comparison, Pearson is a nightmare. Good luck finding where you have to go. The place is literally a labyrinth. Nice blog by the way.
Thanks for the information. We have an upcoming domestic to international connection on United at Dulles that I’m concerned about. We originate in Newark on United Express, arrive in Dulles at 4:28pm and need to connect to a United flight to Geneva with a scheduled 5:35pm departure. United shows this as a valid itinerary/connection. I assume when we drop our bags at Newark they’ll be checked to Geneva so we won’t need to collect and recheck them. Correct? Even with that, is 1 hour sufficient time to make the connection? What will we need to do regarding immigration and customs?
Hi Spencer, you only need to go through customs and immigration the other direction, when you are returning from overseas. Here, you’ll land at a nearby gate and need only to proceed to the Geneva gate. There will be no baggage recheck (your bags will be checked through) or additional security. As long as your flight arrives on time, you will be fine. Enjoy the trip!
I am travelling from Alb to IAD on United 48889 at Gate A2
and then leaving from gate B41 with a connection time of 1 hr 6 mins.
Do you think I can make it?
You will be able to make it if your flight is on time.
I have a United – United international to domestic connection in IAD tonight and I want to plan my route on a map- I dont see any indication of this midfield Immigrations and Customs facility on any map…. Where is the entrance situated in the C terminal
in the end i found it here
Hi, is this applicable as well for international arrivals to terminal C from FRA, followed by another flight to MCO from terminal D, ON TWO SEPARATE TICKETS BY UNITED, 2 hour layover and no checked baggage? Wondering if the Midfield facility is located between the two terminals in the same building. Thank you in advance.
No problem. Use the midfield concourse.
Hi! We are relocating to the US from abroad. We will have four kids six and under. So suitcases and strollers.
We have the option of a connecting flight through dulles with united, or for a couple hundred dollars more, to have the connection be in europe (germany). If i understand correctly, in europe we wont have to collect the baggage and recheck – like we would need to in dulles (or any other US airport). Is this correct? Weve done the connection (luggage and recheck in) in NY in the past for vacation and it was a nightmare.
The process at IAD is very easy – if you save $1200 ($200 x 6), I would make the IAD connection. You’ll go through passport control, pick up your bags, immediately drop them off, then proceed through security and upstairs. All very easy.
We are travelling from London to MCO with a stop over at IAD in August next year. We have 1 hour and 46 minutes and will have 2 checked luggage. We are due to land at 11 and the flight to MCO is 12:46. This is all through United.
We are a bit nervous about having enough time as we have read immigration lines can be long and august is a summer month. Do you think we will make it?
Hi Deb, immigration may lines may be a challenge if you are a non-US citizen, but even so I expect once you get through passport control you’ll simply pick up your bag, re-check it a few paces away, clear security and be on your way upstairs. I think you’ll make it.
We are traveling to MCO from VIE and we have a layover in IAD. The plane lands 14:35 and the takeoff to MCO is at 17:05. The flight to Dulles is on Austrian Airlines and the next flight is with United (all one ticket). Both of us are non-US citizens with luggage. I am somewhat worried about making the connection, as we need to go through passport control, then pick up our bags, clear the customs, re-check our bags and then go through security and make it to the gate.. Do you think we will make it?
Hi Kate, Yes, I very much do think you’ll make it. Just follow the signs for connecting flights on arrival and hopefully the lines will not be too bad. Safe travels!
I am flying from Panama to IAD on COPA Airlines (star alliance airline) and connecting onto Pittsburgh on United Express. This is all under one ticket. It is not clear to me whether I’d be processed through the Midfield facility or the international arrival processing center in the main terminal, being that my international flight is with a star alliance airline and not on United. If you know the answer to my question I’d be so grateful for a reply.
I suspect you will come into the main terminal and have to transfer. This is what happened when I flew Avianca, but I have not flown COPA into IAD. Do let us know after your trip.
Thanks so much for your article about United’s handling of international flights using the Midfield Immigration and Customs Facility in C, level 0. I’m smiling and now wondering what to do with my long layover!!
My June, 2023 United flights (single reservation)— Depart: Houston IAH>AMS Amsterdam. Return: Brussels BRU > IAD arrival 2:25pm, 2h 40m layover; connecting flight: IAD > IAH departs 5:05 pm. Just so I know I’m clear, would you please confirm or correct, my understanding of the process, when using the Midfield Facility, as described in these steps? 1) When I check my bag in Brussels, the bag will be tagged all the way to Houston. The bag won’t need to be tagged again at Dulles. 2) My United international flight from Brussels will arrive at a C or D gate. 3) Since I arrive on an international flight, *connecting to a domestic flight* on United, my checked bag automatically goes to the Midfield Facility’s Baggage Claim instead of the Main Terminal’s. 4) When I enter the Concourse, I go down 2 floors to level 0 (gates on level 2), walk to the Midfield Facility at the end of Concourse C. 5) Join the Immigrations queue, use a Global Entry (GE) kiosk, put receipt in my Passport for Customs. 6) Proceed to Facility’s Baggage Claim, pick up my checked bag.** 7) Next is Customs. Leave my GE receipt; show passport, answer any questions. Note: Step 7 may be done as part of Step 5, by the same Agent. 8) Still in the Facility, Recheck my checked bag; no retagging needed. 9) Use the TSA Pre-check line to complete Security, last step in the Facility. Show Passport, boarding pass for connecting flight scan carry-on bags. 10) Once through Security, exit the Midfield Facility, use escalator up to gate C7. 11) Walk to the C or D gate for my flight to IAH. Related Questions: *By what means does Dulles’s United baggage personnel determine this? Is my checked bag tag coded differently than one without a domestic connection? Do I need to tell the Brussels’s United Agent about the connecting flight before I check in my bag? ** If my flight’s bags have arrived but not mine, can an Agent call the Main Terminal’s International Arrival Bldg (carousel 15)? What’s my next move? Thanks Matthew for your time and effort; it makes a difference.
Hi, thanks for your comments. You have it right. As long as your connecting flight is on the same itinerary, you will not have to specifically mention it in Brussels when checking bags.
It’s an interesting hypothetical to ask what would happen if the bag was sent to the main terminal. I think that is impossible since any connecting itinerary (baggage with a second leg) is sent to midfield, but I’m sure United would bring it to you if something like that happened.
Thanks Matthew for your review and timely response.
I will let you know how it goes.