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A Day in the Life of Dulles

By Rob Yingling

Washington Dulles International Airport bustles with activity each day and night. Built as a high-capacity 24-hour airport, Dulles is a choreographed ballet of several ecosystems working together to power the movement of people and goods through the 12,000-acre complex on to cities around the world. A look behind the scenes provides a glimpse into the people and processes that keep the airport’s 15,000 employees busy each day ensuring that, for each passenger, “Your journey begins with us” (Dulles’s new signature tag-line).


The stream of jumbo jets that departed earlier in the evening is already high over the Atlantic Ocean, bound for Europe and Africa, while other planes work their way toward Dulles from all points on the compass. Most ticket counters in the terminal have closed, though AeroMexico is tagging luggage and handing out boarding passes for its 1:58 a.m. departure to Mexico City. The FAA-operated control tower and three airport fire stations are fully staffed, but the workload has dropped considerably. Roads appear mostly quiet, save for the occasional shuttle bus, tractor-trailer or police patrol.

It’s a very different scene in the Airport Operations Center, a sprawling office located just beneath the B-Gates. The latest “Airport Ops” shift is hitting its stride. Some of the Duty Managers hail from the military; others have years of experience with airlines or air traffic control; all have had airports in their blood for as long as they can remember. Their mission is to act as the airport’s nerve center, monitoring and responding to situations that could slow or interrupt a passenger’s travels.

Given their broad knowledge and skill base, Airport Duty Managers can handle most routine problems without summoning extra help. Lined with maps, monitors, radios, phones of varying hues, and handbooks of all sizes, the Airport Ops Center is equipped with just about everything needed to observe, communicate and resolve an issue. Just outside the door waits a fleet of tricked-out white SUV’s, ready to zip to the far end of the property, while functioning as a mobile office topped with flashing lights. If you have a question about the airport, Ops probably has the answer, though they may be too busy to chat with each of the airport’s 22 million annual passengers. But if there is a need to find you, they can enlist the aid of an airport-wide contact database or network of more than 2000 closed-circuit security cameras.

About two dozen flights touch down overnight—mostly from the West Coast. Sleepy passengers on these “red-eyes” may pause for coffee and refreshments at one of several 24-hour shops before heading out.

Dawn at Washington Dulles International Airport – Photo Courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Dawn at Washington Dulles International Airport – Photo Courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

6:00 a.m.

As the sky brightens, the floodgates of airport commerce open noticeably wider. People and luggage arrive by car, bus and plane. The terminal ticketing level is now abuzz with check-in activity. Breakfast aromas permeate the air as restaurants all around pour fresh coffee and warm up their grills—even restaurants that don’t serve breakfast outside the airport likely have a morning offering at Dulles.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents interview the first wave of international travelers in the James A. Wilding International Arrivals Hall – recently renamed for the first CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., thousands of passengers move through the terminal, concourses, trains and shuttles to board 60 flights. It’s the second busiest concentration of flights, or “banks,” of the day.

Within sight of the airport’s center runway are the cargo ramp and six cargo buildings, where international and domestic shipments have been offloaded from planes to be sorted and delivered.  Inside the cargo buildings, cargo pallets are being built and containers loaded and secured for their airborne journey.  Outside, cargo handlers link together dollies loaded with freight and tug them to their waiting aircraft, where they are then loaded into the belly of the aircraft while passengers board up above.  Some of the items riding beneath your next flight could include things such as fresh flowers, life-saving vaccines, high-tech electronics or hatching eggs.

11:00 a.m. 

The day’s second “bank” of flights begins. The hurried pace is most notable in the C and D-gates, where United Airlines planes unload a fresh surge of passengers into the concourse. Some head for baggage claim, while others stroll the concourse towards their next departure gate. New restaurants line the route, tempting travelers with menu delights at recently opened restaurants like Chef Geoff’s, Bar Simon and Be Right Burger. More than 60 new selections have opened at Dulles since concessions redevelopment began in late 2013.

2:00 p.m. 

Back at the Main Terminal, staff inside the International Arrivals Building are ready for their busiest time of day. Jumbo jets filled with passengers landing from cities like Paris, Beijing, Amsterdam, Frankfurt—and soon Lima and Casablanca as well—will first have to clear U. S. Customs and Border Protection before they continue. They will be guided by Airport Ambassadors and Travelers Aid volunteers, many of whom speak at least two languages and whose friendly skills come in handy when guiding passengers from more than 50 international cities to the proper line for entry in to the United States. The line moves a lot faster than it used to, thanks in part to three rows of automated passport control kiosks now installed in the arrivals hall. These self-service kiosks reduce the time spent per passenger, which makes a difference in a facility handling almost 10,000 people per day. Dulles was among the fastest major U.S. airport for processing international arrivals in January.

4:00 p.m. 

The “mega bank” has begun. The term is insider’s lingo for the next few hours, when the highest volume of passengers for the day will move through the airport. Maximum staffing is in place at ticket counters, gates and security checkpoints. All concourses are being lined with planes of all sizes from commuter props to the double-decker Airbus A380, the largest commercial aircraft in the world.

About 14 stories high above the gates, personnel in the airport Ramp Tower scan the ground traffic below. Equipped with headset radios and one of the best views at the airport, with the click of a handheld button they call out instructions to aircraft pilots and mobile lounge drivers, guiding them away from the gates and onto the airfield.

As aircraft taxi away from the ramp tower, controllers electronically hand off the pilots to their counterparts in the FAA tower for final taxi and takeoff instructions.

6:30 p.m.

One departure that draws extra attention each day is British Airways flight 216 to London. It is one of three daily flights from Dulles of the Airbus A380. Due to the aircraft’s size and 262-foot wingspan, the airport made some changes to give this plane plenty of room to move. Special lines are painted on the pavement for the plane’s wheels to follow. A second jet-bridge mates to the plane’s upper deck. And each A380 departure is closely followed by an airport operations vehicle—right down the runway. At speeds reaching 100 miles per hour, the Airport Duty Manager scans for any debris that may be kicked up on takeoff by the plane’s massive engines. A quick confirmation is radioed to the FAA tower, as operations seamlessly continue.

The sun sets as the “mega bank” begins winding down and the clock ticks back to midnight. Life at Dulles goes on, preparing anew its daily ballet for yet another encore performance.

Rob is Assistant Media Relations Program Manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.


Plane awaits departure - Photo Courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.”

Plane awaits departure – Photo Courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.”

More views behind the scenes at Dulles

Beneath the Terminal:  Miles of steel-lined conveyors moving checked luggage down ramps and past off-ramps that steer them through high-speed x-ray machines and past (or through) TSA-staffed ìresolution roomsî where bags are individually opened for inspection. Well over 17,000 bags pass daily through the system.

Below the airfield:  A 12-foot round tunnel leading to a gray, nondescript utility building next to the terminal that feeds pipes with a constant supply of steam or chilled water to Concourses A and B — keeping the indoor air comfortable year-round.

At the end of the train tunnel:  A collection of flat TV monitors lines a glass-enclosed room at the end of the AeroTrain tunnel, where operators work in around-the-clock shifts to monitor driverless train operations and make sure enough cars are in the system to handle the current passenger load. Any cars needing maintenance can be summoned out of service and whisked to an onsite repair shop with the press of a few buttons.

ìK-9î Unit: The airport Police Department includes 12 K-9 teams that live and work together. Officers have animal-friendly police vehicles they take home with them at the end of their shift. Each handler trains with his or her dog for several weeks at a TSA facility in Texas before beginning regular airport patrols for concealed explosives.


Tech Corner – CarFreeAtoZ

By Maggie Awad

CarFreeAtoZ is a great tool for commuters that was created as part of the Transit Tech Initiative. David Emory, co-founder of Conveyal, describes the tool as “a personalized trip-planning and comparison tool.” While CarFreeAtoZ started here in Arlington, VA, it can be used anywhere to plan your trip, learn how many calories you’ll burn and see your carbon footprint based on the transit choices you make.

Here’s what you can expect when you use CarFreeAtoZ:

“CarFreeAtoZ currently allows for planning trips that combine public transit, walking, biking, and driving. Those modes will continue to be the primary focus, but there are more options that can be shown for them, such as information from additional third-party transportation providers.


Area carpool and vanpool ride-matching services will have enhanced display options, including specific potential matches for a given trip. Users will be alerted when matches are found and will have the option to proceed to the provider’s sign-up page.”

In the past few months, CarFreeAtoZ has also been updated to include Capital Bikeshare as a transit option, an often requested system from the beta feedback. Capital Bikeshare is also a great “last-mile” option for transit trips, greatly expanding the reach of the transit system.

Check out all the latest media coverage of CarFreeAtoZ at Mobility Lab: .

Maggie is the Marketing Manager for Arlington Trans-portation Partners.


10 Best Bets for Getting Your Kids Outdoors

By Sarah McGowan

Remember the “good old days”?  When school was out and the sun was shining, playing outdoors and hanging out with friends during the long, lazy days of summer was the best part of the year.  As we all know, American kids now spend an alarming amount of time indoors – usually focused on some sort of electronic device.  Groups ranging from the American Diabetes Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics say this is detrimental to the health and well-being of our kids – and there are plenty of studies to back them up.

But this is a tough problem to overcome. Not every kid is interested in traipsing out into the woods, and what parent hasn’t spent a Friday evening with Lester Holt as he walks us through a chilling, child abduction case on Dateline NBC? Despite these hurdles, we CAN do things to make it easier for our kids to get outdoors. The following are a few structured and unstructured ideas to entice the young ones away from their gadgets this summer:

1. Play frisbee. A Frisbee is a simple, inexpensive toy to throw around the yard or park…it is also becoming a very popular sport!  Want to learn how to play?  The Washington Area Frisbee Club (WAFC) is one of the most active Frisbee clubs in the U.S. and has programs for every skill level.  There is a special league for kids ages 10 – 13, and kids of all ages can play and learn with their parents in WAFC’s “Recreational League.” For more information, check out the WAFC website at

2. Build a fort. My 5-year old built a fort made of bark and tree limbs in the woods behind our house. Recently, her friends in the neighborhood have joined in the fun – it is their favorite spot and their enthusiasm for using the fort warms my heart.  Yes, there is a danger of ticks, but I check her every night for them.  Don’t feel up to checking for ticks?  No judgment coming from over here. Give your kids some old blankets and they can be thrown over a picnic table, an old card table, or stretched over two chairs – let the fun begin!

3. Swim at a pool. Nothing feels better on a hot, humid Virginia summer day than a dip in the pool!  There are many opportunities in northern Virginia to cool off this summer – from summer-long pool memberships, to a one-day pool pass, there is something for every budget.  For a listing of indoor and outdoor pools and pricing, please visit Northern Virginia Magazine’s list-ing  for northern Virginia pools:

4. Rent a kayak or a canoe. As a former camp counselor, I noticed that our canoe trip was the highlight of camp for most kids. Why?  Because going out on the open water in a boat is exciting and different! A trip in a canoe or kayak is quiet and serene – and, if you are lucky, you will be treated to views of all kinds of wildlife. There are a number of places where you can rent canoes and kayaks on the Potomac, as well as on some of the area’s small lakes. https://familycanoeingdc.wordpress.

5. Try an outdoor summer camp. From learning about insects, to riding horses, to understanding how Native Americans lived long ago, there is something for every interest.  Not all camps are held outdoors, so if that is your goal, do some calling ahead to see where your child will be spending his/her time.  For some good outdoor bets, look for the camps listed at your County’s nature centers:

Fairfax County:

Loudoun County:

Prince William County:

Audubon Naturalist Society:

The Eastern Ridge School:

Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing:

6. Go to an outdoor farmer’s market. Taking a nice walk outdoors surrounded by delicious local food, flowers, baked goods and music – what’s not to love? Be sure to go hungry – most stands offer samples and prepared foods are usually for sale as well. During the summer, there are multiple farmer’s markets going on every day of the week.  For a comprehensive listing of markets in DC and northern Virginia, please visit:

7. Camp in the backyard. Packing the kids up and heading out to Shenandoah for the weekend is truly a memorable event, but it is not always realistic nor is it possible for everyone, every weekend. Some of the key elements of camping can be duplicated right in your own backyard or local park – a fire pit for cooking marshmallows, a grill, picnic food, fireflies, scary stories and staying up a little later than normal. If you have a tent and some space, you could also try spending the night out in the backyard – it is almost as exciting as camping in the woods.

8. Try your hand at geocaching. This is one activity that is enhanced by electronics and might just get that kid who is glued to the computer out of the house! Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt that is done using a GPS-enabled tracking device (cell phone). Individuals navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then work to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location – there are many locations here in northern Virginia, as well as all over the world!  For geocaching 101:

9. Map out a trail to school. In many communities, parents are getting their kids to school in walking or biking pools. Essentially, parents take turns chaperoning groups of kids as they walk or bike to school. This gives kids more outside time and exercise each day, as well as teaching them about pedestrian safety.   Have your child map a safe route to school and invite some friends to test the route. Safe Routes to School has a great site:

DC Commuter Connections has a site called School Pools, which helps parents within the same school to connect for transportation purposes (carpooling, walking pools and biking pools):

10. Set up a lemonade stand.  It never hurts to have a little walking around money for that ice cream cone or special treat at the farmer’s market. Lemons, water, sugar and some great marketing skills are all your kids need to start up a lemonade stand – it is a classic.


The Reston Network Analysis

Study Area Map.

Study Area Map.

Ever wonder how the community you live in evolved into its current shape and form, or  what it might look like in 10, 20 or 50 years?  Communities grow and evolve over time, even master planned communities like Reston.  While Robert Simon formulated a masterful plan for a multi-faceted and multi-use community, functionality and changes in demographics, housing trends, commuting patterns, lifestyles, and other factors, dictate that community master plans be re-visited and updated.  An update to the Reston Master Plan was completed in February 2014 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted the Reston Phase I Comprehensive Plan for the areas surrounding the three Silver Line Metrorail Stations.

The Reston Phase I Comprehensive Plan developed new guidance for mixed use development focused around the future Silver Line Metrorail Stations.  To understand what is needed to support transportation to and from these new developments, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has initiated the Reston Network Analysis.

The Network Analysis will evaluate the conceptual grid of streets in the Reston Transit Station Areas (TSAs) adopted in the Reston Phase I Plan Amendment.  It takes into account the future demand for travel associated with the development around the three Metrorail Stations.

The analysis will identify what roadway features are necessary to support acceptable traffic conditions and a walkable and bikeable environment in the TSAs. The end result will be a street network that is cost effective and requires the minimum right-of-way, with the least impacts to adjacent properties while addressing the future travel demand. It will take into consideration the provisions of the Reston Phase I Master Plan. The study is scheduled be completed late 2016.


Project Overview.

FCDOT wants this analysis to be as inclusive as possible.  Your input is encouraged!  An Advisory Committee, appointed by the Supervisor and comprised of landowners and citizens, meets regularly.  The meetings are open to the public; feel free to attend. Meeting announcements for Advisory Group Meetings, Stakeholder Meetings and Public Meetings can be found on the project website:

There is also a comment box on the webpage if you have any thoughts or questions about the project!


Kristen is a Senior Transportation Planner for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.


Get your Pedal on for Bike to Work Day

By Douglas Franklin

In May we celebrate our Mothers, Cinco de Mayo, and Memorial Day.  What you may not know is that May is also National Bike Month, which celebrates bicycling as a clean, fun, and healthy way to get to work.  On Friday, May 20, 2016 Bike to Work Day will be celebrated all over the Washington D.C. metropolitan region.  Bike to Work Day is free and open to riders of all ability levels, especially those who have never commuted by bicycle before.

Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association coordinate this free and exciting event every year.   This year there will be over 80 pit stop stations set up throughout the District, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia where bicyclists will get free T-shirts, refreshments, and giveaway goodies while supplies last.  Plus, all participants will be entered into a raffle for a chance to win one of many shiny new bicycles being awarded.  And we’ll even give you a well-deserved pat on the back for getting out there and doing it!

The free T-shirt is your “I did it” trophy.  Come snag that free T-shirt, you earned it!  You just have to be one of the first 15,000 to register for Bike to Work Day at, and there is absolutely no cost to do so.  Secondly, on your way to work via bicycle, stop at the pit stop station you designated when registering.

There are so many people who help put together Bike to Work Day, it’s such a positive outpouring of volunteerism and camaraderie, and we want you to be part of the fun.  Will this be the year you finally make your move and brush the cobwebs off that lonely bike of yours?  Or perhaps make an investment in a new bicycle?

Remember riding a bicycle to get around as a kid?  It was a certain rite of passage and was simply second nature as your method of transportation.  Flash back on that fateful day when dad finally removed those 051515-B2Wtraining wheels and you flew solo for the very first time.  To your parents, that moment in your life was nearly as meaningful as when you walked for the very first time.  To you it meant freedom and accomplishment, and a crowning achievement.  In a certain way, the joy of bicycling as an adult harkens back to the spirit of our inner child.  Now’s your chance to capture that spirit again on Bike to Work Day.

Admit it, with a job to go to each day you don’t go to the gym like you know you should.  If only there was a way to get exercise that doesn’t really seem like exercise.  Wouldn’t it be great to get that needed exercise while doing something as mundane as commuting to that pesky job of yours?

As if you didn’t know, bicycling has all sorts of health benefits.  And the cure to just about everything is eating a healthy diet and getting exercise; we hear that over and over again.  The physical benefits of bicycling are many.  Bicycling engages the muscles in your legs without the strong damaging force of coming down hard on your knees. It gets your legs moving and your heart pumping, and since it’s low impact, it’s far easier on your joints than running.

Bicycling is a legitimate method of transportation to work for tens of thousands of commuters in the region.  Bike to Work Day is your chance to try it for the first time, and join those who’ve discovered the secret of bicycling already…it’s fun and healthy.

Bicycling is also great for the environment since it doesn’t give out any carbon based emissions; it is a 100 percent green form of transportation.  There are zero fuel costs at the pump; the only fuel you’ll be burning are calories.

As far as the mental benefits of bicycling, another big aspect is that it can help reduce stress. It will just make you feel better.  The sense of freedom that comes with open air movement at a smooth pace is good for the soul.  It helps us explore the area around us.  Once you bike in areas where you typically drive, you’ll be surprised by what you notice.

A recent study by the New Economics Foundation found that commuters have reported lower stress levels than their counterparts using cars.  The Commuter Connections 2013 State of the Commute Survey report found that than nine in ten who traveled to work by bicycling/walking (93%) reported high satisfaction with their commutes, more than any other mode of transportation.  At 61 percent, commuters who drove alone to work by car were the least satisfied.

Prepare for the event by using some of the great resources at biketoworkmetrodc.org9

Learn more about bicycle commuting, how to ride in experienced commuter bicyclist lead convoys, where to brush up on cycling skills, and participate in a cycling class to learn how to safely share the road with cars, other bikes, and pedestrians.

If you don’t want to go it alone, try finding a ride buddy for Bike to Work Day at the Washington Area Bike Forum,  The online Bike Forum is a place to connect with other area bicyclists.  You can look for riding buddies, ask questions about commuting and route selection, and discuss bicycle safety, advocacy and so much more.  The community on the forum is helpful, knowledgeable and open to riders of all ability levels.

Last year’s Bike to Work Day event drew more than 17,500 bicycle commuters. Get your Pedal On for Bike to Work Day 2016 happening Friday, May 20.  Grab hold of the freedom that bicycling provides and make this year your year. You’ll be so happy you did.

Register for Bike  to  Work  Day  at   and   follow us   on  Twitter    @BikeToWorkDay, #BTWD2016.

Doug is a TDM Marketing Specialist and coordinates Bike to Work Day for Commuter Connections.