Rampside Classic: The Mobile Lounges of Dulles Airport

Dulles People Mover

No matter what you called them, the people-movers at Washington-Dulles are nearly gone. Here’s one in action. When the airport opened in the 60s, the “Toonerville Trollies” would take passengers from the main terminal right out to the plane. That’s service, baby!

There was a problem, though. Dulles was a white elephant for a long time.

Dulles opened in November 1962. At that time if you wanted to fly international from the DC area you had to haul yourself up to Friendship Airport near Baltimore (now BWI). National didn’t have the runway space to handle large jets. Although Dulles’ first international non-stop didn’t happen until 1964 and its first jumbo jet service started in 1970, it was clear the airport was built with expansion and large planes in mind.

Dulles sits about 30 miles from downtown DC. Before the building boom, Chantilly was the boonies. To many people it still is. And people were used to heading to Maryland to take that TWA flight to Paris or Madrid.


You can see how some would consider it an eyesore. It swooped out of the countryside, among the old barns and cows. The designer, Saarinen, wanted it that way. He also wanted mobile lounges.

Mobile Lounge at Dulles International Airport Washington

They served as a portable jet-bridge and kept people out of the rain.

rolling jet

Of course, when jet bridges as we know them came around, it decreased the mobile lounge’s usage.

Things remained quiet at Dulles into the early 70s. My parents would drive out and have dinner there, never worrying about finding parking at the terminal.


But then came the 80s and the Dulles corridor took off like a rocket. Passengers started streaming in and work on a mid-field terminal began. This changed the role of these mobile lounges, which were now used to shuttle people back and forth to the new terminal. Many of the gates in the original airport, where passengers once queued up to go directly to their planes, were re-purposed.

Through the 90s, the airport expansion grew. The main terminal got longer and more parking was added. Now the airport was always packed and busy day and night with an eclectic mix of passengers from foreign airlines and folks taking puddle hoppers to places like State College and Greensboro.


The greatest change was to come. In 2010, the AeroTrain debuted to take passengers out to the mid terminals. As of now, some mobile lounges are still in use, but only to get people to the temporary D terminal.


So now they are the white elephants, and big ones at that.