Last Tuesday morning, American Airlines began welcoming customers to a new, state-of-the-art 14-gate regional concourse at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), designed to replace Gate 35X. The new concourse, constructed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) as part of a $1 billion initiative to transform the customer experience at DCA, provides customers a range of new amenities while offering a more seamless connection to the National Capital Region.
“The dreaded Gate 35X is no more! American’s new regional concourse at Reagan National Airport is fantastic news for our customers,” said Robert Isom, president of American Airlines. “When fully complete, the investments made in partnership with MWAA will finally enable American to deliver a convenient, accessible, world-class product befitting the gateway to our nation’s capital.”
A major milestone in the airport’s Project Journey capital improvement program, the new concourse will serve as the home of American Airlines’ regional operations at DCA and provides direct, enclosed access to aircraft via jet bridges, as well as spacious waiting areas. This summer, when construction is complete, the concourse also will feature new shopping and dining options.
Since Terminal B/C opened in 1997, Gate 35X has served as the primary gateway for millions of customers traveling to and from the nation’s capital on flights operated by American’s regional partners. At its peak, more than 6,000 customers a day passed through its cramped corridors and onto buses before boarding a flight parked at one of 14 remote hardstand gates.
Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, operations from Gate 35X accounted for 16% of all customer traffic and 30% of all departures from DCA. But due to schedule reductions driven by COVID-19, Gate 35X was temporarily closed for most of 2020. As a result, airport partners were able to accelerate portions of construction — completing key components of the new concourse early.
Gate 35X was reactivated to support an increase in flight activity earlier this year. To commemorate the last of more than 250,000 departures from Gate 35X, American, Piedmont and PSA Airlines team members joined together Monday evening to send off flight 5482 as it departed for Albany, New York (ALB).
Designed to enhance passenger convenience and comfort, the new facility was built to complement the architectural features of DCA’s current Terminal B/C. The concourse, which includes Gates 46-59, features exposed steel arches and columns, expansive glass walls and skylights that complement the Jeffersonian domes in the existing terminal, giving travelers large, open, brightly lit gate areas with panoramic views of the iconic Washington, D.C., skyline.
“The opening of the new concourse is the culmination of years of work by thousands of employees who overcame numerous challenges and the seismic changes of a global pandemic to deliver a world-class passenger experience at Washington, D.C.’s airports,” said John E. Potter, president and chief executive officer of the Airports Authority. “The airport’s $1 billion investment to transform the traveler experience inside the terminals at the gates and along the roadways will bring a new era of travel to American Airlines’ customers, who can now board regional jet aircraft from jet bridges instead of through Gate 35X.”
Included in the new concourse is various types of seating, many with electrical outlets, for 850 passengers, as well as 14,000 square feet of concession space, four public restrooms, four moving walkways, two mother’s care rooms, an indoor pet relief area, new airline office space and a new baggage-handling system. When complete, the new concourse will also include more than 10 new shopping and dining options and a new 14,000 square-foot Admirals Club — currently scheduled to open in 2022.
Behind the scenes, more than 20,000 square-feet of space on the ramp level will serve as home to American’s wholly-owned regional subsidiaries Piedmont and PSA Airlines — providing team members new break areas, workspaces and locker rooms. A new baggage handling system will help expedite the luggage off-load and transfer process, further enhancing the overall customer experience.
In response to increasing demand, American plans to operate up to 180 peak day departures from DCA this summer — restoring service to more than 15 markets served before the pandemic, including Hilton Head, South Carolina (HHH); Traverse City, Michigan (TVC); and Asheville, North Carolina (AVL). To accommodate regional flights, up to 85 daily departures are scheduled to operate from the new concourse this summer.
As demand for air travel returns, American plans to provide service on larger regional aircraft operating to and from DCA — adding seat capacity without increasing the number of scheduled flights. Long-term, American intends to operate regional flights with the 65-seat Bombardier CRJ-700, the 76-seat CRJ-900 and the Embraer E175, offering customers a premium two-cabin experience.
Until the construction process is completed this summer, limited concessions will be available in the new concourse during the soft opening, including Peet’s Coffee and Capitol File newsstand. Additionally, passengers will be able to access post-security concessions near Gates 35-45. A complete list of shops and restaurants that are currently open at the airport can be found on the COVID-19 shopping and dining information webpage. Featured concessionaires slated to open permanent locations later in 2021 in the new concourse include Wolfgang Puck Bar & Bites, Mezeh Mediterranean Grill, Peet’s Coffee, Capitol File News and InMotion Entertainment, with several others to follow.