Big News for Dulles’ Mobile Lounges

by SharonKurheg

There are only 2 airports in the world that still use mobile lounges – Washington Dulles International Airport in the U.S., and Montréal-Trudeau International Airport in the Canadian province of Quebec. The system was also previously used at Montreal Mirabel International Airport, JFK International Airport’s International Terminal in New York City, Mexico City Airport, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are also variants of the system at Philadelphia Int’l Airport, as well as at Dulles itself, in the form of its Plane Mates.

An idea before its time

a large truck on the runwayArchitect Eero Saarinen’s (yes, he of the original TWA building at JFK) vision of Dulles made for an airport that’s as impressive today as it was 60-odd years ago. Industrial design duo Charles and Ray Eames made a video in 1958 to explain not only what Dulles would offer but also why and how it was taking lessons from its past to do these things. Its mobile lounges are explained at the 7:00 mark of the video.

Dulles’ mobile lounges have been running since 1962. Because there are so many more passengers than there were 62 years ago, they’re generally only used for some international arrivals. The airport’s AeroTrain has transported the rest of the airport’s passengers between the Main Terminal and the A-, B-, and C-Gates since 2010.

The eventual goal is to phase out Dulles’ mobile lounges once the AeroTrain is a complete loop around the airport. But since the second phase of the AeroTrain’s development isn’t anywhere near starting, Dulles is going to invest money in their mobile lounges and its “younger sibling,” their Plane Mates, to the tune of $143 million.

a truck on the tarmac

Plane Mate pic (cropped): dave_7 / flickr / CC BY 2.0

Last summer, the Washington Post reported that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s (MWAA) board of directors had approved the lounges’ overhaul. At the time, Eric Bauserman, the airport’s facilities manager, said that the mobile lounges were, “…kind of like restoring a classic car. Whether it’s been sitting or whether it’s been driven daily, there’s a lot of stuff that has to be addressed. You’ve got to take it down to the frame.”

Take them down to the frames, they will

The contract to Pennslyvania-based Brookville Equipment Corporation. The firm manufactures locomotives and other rail products. The first vehicle (there are 49, all told; 19 mobile lounges and 30 Plane Mates) started its journey to PA in March and April.

“Mobile lounges and plane mates are important parts of Dulles International Airport’s operations,” said Richard Golinowski, vice president and airport manager at Dulles International Airport, in a press release. “They provide flexibility and increased capacity to move passengers around the airport while offering unique views during the ride. Built in the 60s, it’s time for a major overhaul of these iconic vehicles. We look forward to following the two prototypes through Brookville to Rehabilitate Mobile Lounge and Plane Mate Prototype Vehicles – 2 refurbishment.”

Dulles’ largest carrier, United Airlines, said the vehicles “remain a critical piece of infrastructure at Dulles.”

“We look forward to these iconic vehicles getting an update to ensure they can continue to serve the countless travelers who visit our nation’s capital every year,” the airline said in a statement.

Feature Photo (cropped): Glenn Beltz / flickr / CC BY 2.0

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Roger June 20, 2024 - 8:06 pm

Freaking hate it. Always have to plan extra time because of these weird Star Wars things. What’s that? You only have 15 mins to get to your flight? Well, here is a slow moving turtle for your ride!

SharonKurheg June 20, 2024 - 8:12 pm

I could see that if people weren’t warned about how early to arrive at the airport. But for IAD, it’s recommended to arrive at least 2 hours before short haul domestic flights and 3 hours early for long haul international. I’m sure they’re taking the extra time needed for the mobile lounges into account. If someone is one of those “I arrive at the airport an hour before my flight” people, welp… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Jake from MSP June 20, 2024 - 8:41 pm

AKA the same advice that’s given for almost every major airport in the US

SharonKurheg June 20, 2024 - 8:47 pm

Indeed. Because airports have an idea of how much time PAX will need. At MCO, it’s a TSA checkpoint with families who don’t know what they’re doing. At Dulles, it’s mobile lounges. But if someone disregards the recommended amount of time and finds themselves rushing, that’s not the airport’s fault.

Your daddy June 21, 2024 - 8:14 am

I fly at least 100 flights a year. Every hour extra I would spend at the airport, would equate to 4 full days of my life each year my life I would lose, sitting around and doing nothing. Yes I time going through security as they start boarding my flight.

Bobby June 26, 2024 - 1:26 pm

IAD is a disaster and its not just these glorified buses. Do you know that the underground train actually passes up Terminal C and passengers have to walk a long ways just to get back to it? I always take the mobile lounge because the travel time is about the same but at least you get to see planes out the window. Any other enterprise would fire everyone involved but the Board at IAD probably gave itself a bonus. What a bunch of geniuses.

Bill June 21, 2024 - 12:27 am

I believe these were also used previously at Edmonton International Airport, as I’ve ridden them in Edmonton and Dulles – although Edmonton was terminal to plane and Dulles was terminal to terminal. But now I take the train at Dulles.

Christian June 21, 2024 - 12:57 am

I grant that I’m the exception but I love the moon buggies. I might feel differently if I had to fly through IAD on an ongoing basis.

Dale June 21, 2024 - 7:45 am

I remember that mobile lounges were used at ATL in January 1974.

Danny G June 23, 2024 - 2:58 pm

Mirabel no longer uses them, but only because the last passenger flight flew in 2004. The 1 million square foot passenger terminal was demolished in 2016.

Brian Ellerby June 26, 2024 - 11:11 am

Hopefully these additions will make a difference to this terrible system. The worst I have encountered anywhere in the world.
Imagine coming off an Emirates first class flight on an A380 to be subjected to this atrocious spectacle.
I have now done this twice and seriously considering changing my US port of departure/return back to JFK or even Houston for my Emirates flights.

SharonKurheg June 26, 2024 - 11:20 am

Wow, you must have much higher expectations than us. We’ve been on them and they were fine for what they were; they got us from Point A to Point B safely. What more would a person want? Anyway, potentially enjoy JFK/IAH!

Brian June 26, 2024 - 11:25 am

The last time I came into this the car was crammed so full it made it difficult to move, not to mention the 10 wheel chairs and pushers that were also crammed in.
The vast majority of people complained bitterly, not just myself.

SharonKurheg June 26, 2024 - 11:30 am

Isn’t that pretty much the case for virtually any shuttle? Meh…all part of the joys of modern-day travel. And especially with it being such a short trip, it’s a negligible issue.

Randy M June 26, 2024 - 1:03 pm

“Better” lounges is like-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The number 1 Dulles priority should be getting rid of them, rather than wasting money in “improving” them.

SharonKurheg June 26, 2024 - 1:06 pm

Frankly, it sounds as if removing them actually is the long-term plan. But since that will be a multi-year project, they’re going to make the best of what they have, for now.

askmrlee June 26, 2024 - 5:38 pm

The 7:04 mark of the video humorously shows the reason why the gentleman almost missed the flight. St Louis also had these to get people between concourses when TWA was a hub.


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