Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

My Photo
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Please! Somebody Take the Dull Out of Dulles!

Since 1993, when I abandoned United and gave up my vaunted but much depreciated (even then) 1K status, I don’t believe I’ve flown more than 4-5 UA segments, and then only because other airlines’ flight cancellations forced me onto UA. None of those force majeure flights had taken me through Washington Dulles Airport. In fact I had not flown through Dulles since, well, ummm, let’s see, hmmm, not long after it opened? That must have been in the 1960s or early 70s! My recollections are of the beautiful sweeping terminal.

This happened because I took my family up to visit an old friend in Grantham, New Hampshire last weekend (Oct 10-12) to join the “leaf peepers” gawking at the gorgeous upper New England fall foliage, and we flew on United, which connected through Dulles. Why fly my nemesis after all these years? Simple: United was far and away the cheapest at about $112 round trip each (purchased about 5 months back).

And the flights were 75% RJs, which made them just like everybody else. The one mainline flight was a short 38 minutes from Raleigh (RDU) to IAD, and I knew I could stomach that.

I was surprised to find most UA personnel in late 2008 on the ground and in the air to seem, well, humbled from my last data point fifteen years ago. And the flights were no better or worse than anybody else’s these days, dumbed down and cheapened as they all have been to minimalist service standards, and mostly late (3 out of 4 of our flights on the RDU/MHT itinerary).

I have little more to say about the United experience except to praise the nice gate agents in Manchester. They were genuinely kind and helpful, like real people. (I have no idea how they got hired by any airline, let alone United.) What really surprised me about this trip was the dilapidated and threadbare appearance of the Dulles International Airport concourses.

Heck, airlines at Dulles don’t even much use the beautiful original swoosh-design terminal that took the world by storm when it opened and promised to transform the airport experience. Instead, the makeshift midfield concourses “B” and “C/D” (the latter two are run together) take the brunt of today’s flights.

The architecture, if one can stretch to call it that, was thrown together. The flat utilitarian structures have the appearance of temporary double-wide construction trailers laid out end-to-end in a long line.

Dull. Ugly. In stark contrast to the grace and beauty of the original terminal, the Dulles midfield makeshifts are reminiscent of the pinnacle of Soviet architecture in the Brezhnev era. Gazing over from “C” to “B” to see the South African Airways flight at its gate, I wondered what the First class passengers who has paid over $10,000 for their tickets thought of their miserable leave-point surroundings.

Maybe in our new economic reality Dulles accurately reflects the new hard times of America. But I hope not. We are better than this airport gives the impression that we Americans are, and I’m ashamed of it.


Post a Comment

<< Home