Washington Dulles International Airport opened in 1962 and featured mobile lounges to get people to and from the aircraft. These vehicles are essentially large buses that look like some kind of futuristic lunar rover.

Over the years they have gradually fallen out of use, as airport design changed and underground train systems came into favour. Dulles is one of the few airports with the lounges – often called Plane Mates – still in use.

Mobile Lounge History

Sometimes we forget that people in the past had great design ideas. Mobile lounges are designed to save people having to walk so far in an airport. I can appreciate that, some airports require miles of walking to get from check-in to the gate.

Eero Saarinen designed Washington Dulles with this in mind. People would arrive at the terminal, check-in and take a short walk across the building and wait inside a mobile lounge. Around 15 minutes before departure, the doors would close and it would head off to the plane.

Apparently there are a couple of reasons they fell out of favour. For a start, airports have many more gates nowadays, plus aircraft have a lot more passengers. Not everyone will fit into one or two of the dune buggy style buses.

The other reason is that arriving passengers prefer to walk to where they have to go. They apparently did not appreciate being captured in another vehicle on arrival, something I can relate to as I despise arriving and having to get a bus to the terminal.

Mobile Lounges Are Cool Though!

People arriving from abroad into Dulles get to use these vehicles to take them from the terminal to the International Arrivals Building. I was very happy when I got to use them on my visits to Washington DC.

You all pile in, some sit, others stand, then you motor off around the airport until you get where you’re going. Sure, it’s essentially a bus, but it’s one of the coolest ones around. I’d seen them in movies before, so I was really happy to try them.

Overall Thoughts

As someone who likes to walk, even I find the extremely long distances at some airports – I’m looking at you, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (it’s pronounced “Suwannapoom” by the way) – quite annoying at times. Taking a mobile lounge that saves me a lot of walking would be preferable.

That being said, underground train systems are more efficient to run and better for the environment on an ongoing basis. Overlooking the additional costs and environmental impact of building it in the first place, of course.

I know the long term plan is to retire them at Washington Dulles. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying my international arrival into that airport and boarding a piece of history.

What do you think of the mobile lounges at Dulles? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by dave_7 via Wikimedia Commons.
Black and white mobile lounge image via Petrolicious.
Interior of mobile lounge via the Library of Congress.