DCA Has A Problem With Its Free One Hour Parking

by Giovanni

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) offers free one-hour parking for pickups from the airport.

However, there has been pushback to increase that time since wait times for luggage arriving on the carousel after landing have continued to increase, sometimes lasting longer than the hour of allotted free parking. It also has raised the question of disability-access issues for those that need additional time to leave the airport.

DCA Free Parking: Long Carousel Wait Times

One driver blasted the airport in a tweet. Dave Leightman, who was driving to the airport to pick up his father on an arriving flight, tweeted that the “first-hour-free garage is a scam since you can’t actually leave in under an hour.”

Leichtman noted that he parked in the lot as his father’s flight arrived. But due to luggage not arriving to the carousel until much later, he was forced to pay to park for two hours at a cost of $12.

Long waits for bags to arrive on the carousels have long been a feature at DCA. In a two-year old FlyerTalk thread commenters discussed how wait times often stretch over an hour with one user stating, “One hour is actually on the quick side. Welcome to DCA.”

Not fun for customers driving to pick up passengers and waiting in the free-one-hour garage. Then again, having free parking at all is a perk that many airports do not have.

Delta and Alaska Airlines flyers should know that they’re guaranteed their checked bag at the carousel within 20 minutes or less of arrival. When they don’t (including at delay-prone airports like DCA), passengers on Delta can request compensation at this page. Alaska Airlines customers should speak to a customer service agent at the airport before leaving. The guarantee only applies to domestic flights.

What About People With Disabilities?

Inconveniencing the average customer isn’t the only reason the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is catching heat for its one-hour parking garage. A prominent Virginia political consultant pointed out a far more serious issue with the garage.

Ben Tribbet responded to Leichtman’s Tweet noting that the “policy is especially discriminatory against the disability community who need more time to get in and out for a pickup.”

It’s critical that people with disabilities not be forced to bear additional costs just because it takes them longer.

We’ve reached out to the MWAA asking if they provide any accommodation is available for persons with disabilities (and whether there are plans to adjust the time limit given the long carousel luggage wait times). We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Bottom Line

DCA has always been one of my favorite airports, but with construction for its Project Journey upgrade in full swing delays and congestion at the airport are worse than ever. In fact, the one hour free parking in the garage is being offered as part of the project to allow passengers to avoid roadways and alleviate that congestion during the ongoing construction.

Given the issues, drivers to DCA should be aware that one hour may be too short to complete pick-ups. Those with mobility issues — where an hour is cutting it close — should be equally aware. Drivers not able to clear the parking lot within 60 minutes will be charged for two hours of parking.

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Adam L August 5, 2019 - 1:14 pm

DCA is like London City Airport. It’s utility and raison d’être is for business travelers. Airport fees need to upped to force more infrequent/leisure flyers to IAD and BWI.

David Marquette August 5, 2019 - 4:09 pm

if you’re local and driving to pick up an arriving passenger w/ checked bags, and you have the 1 hr. free parking, why not wait to enter the garage after the bag claim sign shows their luggage arriving?

Jimmy August 5, 2019 - 4:58 pm

This seems silly. Most airports don’t give any free parking.


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