Washington Dulles International Airport (KIAD) is one of the most important airports at the east Coast of the United States. It is located in Virginia and 26 miles from Washington D.C, the capital of the United States. Comparing with two other two major airports KDCA and KBWI in Washington-Baltimore area, Dulles has the most international traffic with more than 22 million passengers a year and more than 125 destinations around the world. Located next to Dulles airport is the Udvar-Hazy Center, which has a lot of interesting collections like SR-71 Blackbird inside, it’s worth to have a visit.
Dulles is a hub of United Airlines which flies to Europe, Asia and South America. Almost all major Europe airlines like Lufthansa, Air France as well as Asian airlines like ANA, Air China service daily flights to Dulles. In this way, all kinds of heavies especially like United B767-400 can be observed every day. Also, because of its special location, VIP aircraft and Special Visitors like Amiri 747-400, Luftwaffe A310 and AN-124 can be seen all year round if you are lucky enough.
The airport authorities are pretty friendly to spotters, but there will still be chances be to approached by the airport police at garage 1&2 (location 2&3). Normally the police will just ask after a few questions but it’s advised to make a call to the airport authority at 703-572-2730 before coming to those two locations since it’s the airport property.
Written by Ruoyang Yan, Ruoyao Wang and Cristian Ponce Chavarria. Last change: March 2023 (Spot 9 added)
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| (21 votes, average: 4.43 out of 5)
|01L/19R||2.865 m (9.400 ft) Concrete|
|01C/19C||3.505 m (11.500 ft) Concrete|
|01R/19L||3.505 m (11.500 ft) Concrete|
|12/30||3.201 m (10.501 ft) Concrete|
|Concourse Z (Main Terminal)||Air Canada Express, Frontier|
|Concourses A and B||all non United Flights|
|Concourses C and D||only United and United Express|
|Car/Public Transport||Not necessary but recommended, all locations can be reached by bus but they’re not that convenient especially if you’re planning to depart from Downtown Washington DC.|
|Restrooms||All locations have restrooms located nearby except location 3 and 6.|
|Drinks/Food||There are shops nearby at all locations except location 3 and 6.|
|Hotels||Many hotels located around the airport and most of them provide shuttle bus from the terminals, the most convenient hotel is Washington Dulles Airport Marriott since it’s the closest one.|
|Season||All year round is fine, but in winter it gets dark pretty early (Around 4 – 5pm).|
|01C/19C||Mainly be used for arrivals. In southern operation, domestic flights and almost all European airlines will land on 19C. But in northern operation, arrivals on 1C are mostly those coming from south and west while others are more likely to use 1R. ANA, Korean Air and cargos will mostly use 1C/19C regardless of direction of operations. During the peak in the early morning, 1C/19C may also be used for domestic departure.|
|01R/19L||Used for both arrivals and departure. During southern operation, arrivals coming from south and most international flights of United Airlines will use 19L while most European airlines will use 19C. In northern operation, traffic coming from north and east will use 1R in the morning as well as Ethopian, Emirates and SAA. In the afternoon almost all international arrivals will use on 1R.|
|01L/19R||Only be used during peak hours, at most time, there is no operation on this runway.|
|12/30||Only be used for departure. Arrivals will only happen when encountering strong NW wind during few days of a year. Most departure flights will use runway 30 in the morning.|
|Spot #1 – Sully Place Shopping Center – 1R Arrivals in The Morning|
|WHERE||If you’re driving, use VA-28N and exit at S/Sully Road. follow the direction of Sully Place Shopping Center, it’s a pretty market area so parking is always available. Step up to the sidewalk to avoid the overhead utility wires. There are a few hidden old sprinkler heads in the grass between the lot & sidewalk, take care not to trip over them.
You can also take Bus 652 to “Centreville Rd and Metrotech Dr” and walk for a short distance to there.
|WHAT||This location is good for spotting arrivals on 1R during north operation. traffic come from north and east like Emirates, Ethiopian and South Africa will use 1R. You can move to the sidewalk for a better angle since there are trees and wires which may obstruct the planes.|
|TIME||From sunrise to noon all year round.|
|MISC.||Shops and restrooms are inside the market.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||200mm for B777/ A380, 300mm or longer for domestic flights and business jets.|
|Spot #2 – IAD Parking garage 2 – All movements on 1C/19C in The Morning|
|WHERE||Parking garage 2 in next to the main terminal of IAD, there is pathway connects the ticketing level of the terminal and the 3rd floor of garage 2. Use the elevators to the top level for a better angle. You can also take the parking lot shutter bus from the arrival level of terminal. (The parking fee is $6 / hour and $17 / day)|
|WHAT||This location is wonderful for spotting all operations happen on 1C/19C in the morning. During southern operation, most arrivals will use 19C. And during northern operation, arrivals are more likely to be those coming from south and west. ANA and Korean Air will mostly use 1C/19C. Sometimes in early morning (about 7am to 9am), 1C/19C may also be used for departures which you could get a pretty good angle, but after the peak, departures will move to 30.|
|TIME||From sunrise to noon all year round.|
|MISC.||Shops and restrooms are inside the terminal which is accessible by the pathway on the 3rd floor of the garage.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||250mm for B777/ A380, 400mm or longer for domestic flights and business jets on the runway. Shorter length is available for spotting the movements on the taxiways.|
|Spot #3 – IAD Parking garage 1 – Arrivals on 19L and Departure on 1R in The Afternoon|
|WHERE||Parking garage 1 is a separate building so it’s relatively farther from the terminal than garage 2. But it’s easy to find, just follow the direction of garage 1 and go to the top level to get a better angle. Garage 1 is also accessible by the parking lot shutter bus. (The parking fee is $6 / hour and $17 / day)|
|WHAT||This location is ideal for spotting arrivals on 19L and departure in 1R in the afternoon. During southern operation, international arrivals of United Airlines are more likely to use 19L, some other arrivals like European and Asian airlines may also land at 19L but they are most likely to use 19C. In northern operation, you can also spot 1R departure before sunset, keep in mind that 1R will mainly be used for arrivals in the early afternoon, departure will mostly happen in late afternoon until sunset. (Normally begining with Air China 77W and ending with Lufthansa 747). Also note that during summer, heat haze can be a problem so this location is more ideal during cooler weather.|
|TIME||From noon to sunset all year round.|
|MISC.||As I mentioned before, Parking garage 1 is separate from the terminal, please bring food you need and there is no restroom inside the garage.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||300 mm for B767/B777, 400mm or longer for domestic flights.|
Photos for 19L arrival:
Photos for 1R departure:
|Spot #4 – Udvar-Hazy Center – 1R Arrivals in The Afternoon|
|WHERE||Udvar-Hazy Center is next to the IAD, you can follow the direction drive to the museum parking lot or take the Bus 983 from the terminal which is convenient. Parking fee is $15 and a 30-minute gracing period at any time of the day.|
|WHAT||It might be the most famous spotting location of IAD during northern operations. Most international arrivals will use 1R including heavies. aircraft flies low at this location so it’s easy to get nice pictures. You can move around the parking lot to find a better angle since sometime the trees may obstruct the planes.|
|TIME||From noon to sunset all year round.|
|MISC.||MacDonald and restrooms are inside the museum and the entry is for free.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||150 mm for B777/ B747/ A380, 250mm or longer for domestic flights and business jets.|
|Spot #5 – Fairfield Inn – 19L Arrivals in The Morning|
|WHERE||This location is at the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn. The address is 23000 Indian Creek Dr, Sterling, VA. It’s at the north side of the airport. To access it from Old Ox Rd, you can turn right into Pacific Blvd, and then turn right again into Indian Creek Dr. You can park your car in the Eastern side of the Fairfield Inn’s parking lot.|
|WHAT||At this location you can spot the morning arrivals of Runway 19L. International
arrivals from Europe and Middle-East in the morning are likely to use this runway during southern operations. Some domestic flights can also be seen.
|TIME||It is good from sunrise to noon all year round.|
|MISC.||Restroom is located inside Fairfield Inn. Foods are available nearby in the Cracker Barry Store.|
|Spot #6 – Ambassed or Bible Church – 1C Arrivals in The Afternoon|
|WHERE||This location is at the parking lot of the Ambassador Bible Church. The address is 15100 Enterprise Ct, Chantilly, VA. It is in the south side of the airport. To access it from Lee Jackson Highway, you can turn left into Pleasant valley Rd, and then turn left again into Lafayette Center Dr. You can park your car in the parking lot of Ambassador Bible Church.|
|WHAT||At this location you can spot the afternoon arrivals of Runway 1C. The majority of the traffic here is domestic. Some of the international flights from Asia or South America will also use this runway. In some circumstances arrivals from Europe do use this runway but it is not a common scene as they are more likely to use 1R which can be spotted at location 4.|
|TIME||It is good from noon to sunset all year round.|
|MISC.||There aren’t any restrooms or stores nearby. Prepare your own food and water.|
|Spot #7 – Costco Parking lot- 1R Arrivals in The Afternoon|
|WHERE||This location is at a street across the parking lot of the Costco, just follow the direction and park next to the Chipotle. It’s close to location 4 — Udvar-Hazy Center and what you spot are the same traffic here. However, in this location, you will have a better view as there is no tree which may obstruct the planes. Another advantage comparing with Udvar-Hazy Center is that you don’t need to pay a parking fee here.|
|WHAT||In this location you can spot arrival in 1R during northern operations in the whole afternoon. Most international arrivals will use 1R including heavies.|
|TIME||It is good from noon to sunset all year round.|
|MISC.||Restroom is located inside Costco and there is shops nearby.|
|Spot #8 – Commerce Center – 19R/C arrivals|
|WHERE||Heading west, take route 606, then turn right on Commerce Center Ct. After turning right onto Commerce CC, take the first right which should take you down and into a parking lot. Park anywhere once in the lot, then proceed to the end and climb up the hill.|
|WHAT||From there you can photograph arrivals on 19C and 19R.|
|TIME||Arrivals on rwy19C from 12:00 to sunset.
Arrivals on rwy 19R from sunrise to 12:00.
|MISC.||With six months of going to this location, I have never experienced any problems with security/the police. This location is a business park, so sometimes the workers there will ask if you’ve caught anything interesting or if there is anything interesting coming in while driving in or out. I have never been “heckled” by the workers either.
As mentioned before, this is a business park. There are probably restrooms inside some of the buildings there, but it is recommended to avoid this unless it is an emergency as constant restroom usage might give the business owners an unfavourable view of spotters and make them unwelcome visitors.
Finally, if you are an experienced spotter, and you listen to ATC (KIAD-> North Arrival MULRR), you’ll be able to hear aircraft arriving from the north receive a runway ” expect runway __” (either by Chambersburg, PA or York, PA depending on how they are being vectored into the airport) This will provide you with ample time to make it to Garage 1 if the aircraft gets 19 L. Google directions from this spot to Garage 1, it takes around 8 minutes. It should be noted that you can see aircraft that are arriving on 19L from this spot, but to get a decent photograph, you should go to either of the Garages, preferably #1 as it is closer to 19L.
|Spot #9 – Economy Parking – 19L arrivals|
|WHERE||Whilst approaching the airport, follow the sign to huge economy parking lot. Access is via Rudder Rd, north of the airport. Head for “Gold Lot” once inside. From here you have a perfect sight of the 19L approach path. Postion as you want on the big lot for the preferred angle.|
|WHAT||Arrivals on rwy19L only.|
|TIME||All day as you can photograph from both sides. Avoid midday as the sun is on the top.|
|MISC.||Parking is very cheap and only 12 USD for 24h. A 7eleven and a gas station is not far. Check the official website for more details.|
the economy parking is also another good area to observe the arrivals at the 19L, you just need to get comfortable in the car parks to find your best unobstructed view. I was there for a whole day and throughout the day ,I had no problems with security or with other airport authorities. Sometimes the bus drivers see you, but it is customary or normal for them to see people with cameras in the parking lot. parking costs 12 $ an hour
Hi Cristian, can you provide us some photos for the guide please to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was there last year and we parked at the nearby gas station for free and from there walked over to the parking. 12USD is pretty expensive tbh.
The economy parking costs 12 USD for an entire day, but once you drive in, you are charged the fee. I’d be careful parking and leaving the car at the gas station. It can get crowded and you might be towed away if they see you leave.
12 USD for the entire day is absolutely fair! In the meantime this location has been added to the guide. Thanks for the support guys.
They updated the prices because that time I was there for a day like 8/9 hours they charged me 96 dollars 2021, but yes, sorry it’s 12 dollars for an entire day.
I already sent some photographs from that area.
No good spotting for 30 departures? seems like that’s where they usually go later in the day.
For runway 30 departures in the afternoon I usually go to the Sheetz gas station at 42855 Yardley Ridge Dr, Sterling VA 20166. From Dulles Airport take southbound VA-28, exit to US-50 West, and go right at Loudoun County Parkway. The station will be on your left after about a mile. Generally you can get a decent shot at aircraft that bank to the north after takeoff, but any that go west or southwest will be just above you, so all you get is a “belly shot”. This is a commercial establishment, so I normally make a point of buying something at the store to support them.
Can you send us some photo to email@example.com pls. I would like to add this location to the guide.
Just a heads up, I live near here and the Cici’s is no longer there. There is a Costco nearby and a Chipotle if you need a different reference point.
Good to know, thanks Allison!
Where would you recommend to go to catch the a380 departures and 747 arrivals?
As of March 2023, Emirates and British Airways are operating A380 flights to Dulles. Emirates arrives in the morning, and BA (occasionally) in the mid-afternoon. Lufthansa is the only airline operating passenger 747s to Dulles. Where to catch them? For runway 1 arrivals, these will typically land on 01R so you can get good shots from the Udvar Hazy museum parking lot, or from the access road to the museum (at your own risk, police sometimes discourage it). For runway 19 arrivals, it’s hard to tell, depending on the actual time of arrivals, they may take 19L or 19C. For 19L arrivals you can go to the top of Parking Garage 2. For 19C arrivals in the afternoon go to Old Ox Rd and Commerce Center Ct. This is an office park, so exercise caution on leaving your car for extended periods of time, as an over-zealous tenant might have your car towed, but I haven’t heard of this happening.
Great info! How friendly are the airport police to plane spotters? Specifically in the Parking Garages on the airport?
I was there last june from like10am to 5pm, as long as you call AO and let them know youll be ok
I am new to plane spotting and there are many runways at Dulles Airport. How can I find out which runway you are talking about, like 1R and 19c, and all the others??
You can see it in the google map at each and of the runway.
Is this spot in the Costco parking lot? By the tire center? I did not see Cici’s Pizza. Did I miss it?
Yeah, Cici’s Pizza closed last year I believe, the spot is at the north side of Costco parking lot, where you can see the landing traffic. Thanks.