A new JD Power survey has ranked Dulles International third-worst in customer satisfaction among medium-sized US airports (Kiser, 2012). Third, schmird. IAD is by far the worst airport I have experienced in passport control/immigration and security. More often than not, they give half their screeners/immigration officers the day off, even if multiple large transatlantic flights are coming in or going out, leaving thousands of passengers in winding queues in a room so small that terrorists must be salivating. The pre-security passport control queue system is so bad that they have taken to holding hundreds of people (who thought they arrived with plenty of time for their flights) upstairs, unable even to get on the escalator to take them TO the winding queue downstairs, with no preference given for business class or elite frequent flyers.
Once through all the pre-security queues, passengers are reminded that Dulles International Airport is the Land of the Strip-Search Scanner and the Home of the "Don't touch my junk, bro!" Patdown.
Don't even get me started on the horrible little tram system post-international flight, which adds nearly an hour to the trip and which until recently featured rudely shouting "officials" hollering that the tram wouldn't move until every available space was occupied, so exhausted fliers had better move to the center of the car! Not to mention that transferring passengers must claim and recheck their baggage, and those remaining in DC must wait far too long, after the previous long process, to claim their bags - but if the immigration process took too long, a brigade of workers will (even if no other flights have come in and the only flight on the baggage carousel is yours) yank your bags off the carousel and stack them in rows on the floor, which you must search to find your bags, which are then difficult to retrieve because they are lined up so tightly.
After ALL this, another long queue for the 4 customs officers (if you are lucky), then (again if you're lucky and haven't been so stupid as to report your 3 Valencia oranges from your fridge that morning, which will get your bags searched), FREEDOM - to force your way past a crowd of family/friends who always seem to be waiting with signs and anticipation for their loved ones, past impatiently dour limo drivers, etc. Then either the pricey monopoly of Washington Flyer taxis/buses, or waiting for your ride next to all the smokers outdoors.
I haven't flown via La Guardia yet, but I have experienced the joys of O'Hare, LAX, JFK, EWR, LHR, CDG, FRA, and MUC, among others, and while CDG might give IAD a run for its money in the 'vast distances between terminals' and 'lengthy immigration queues' categories, none of the other airports matched Home Sweet Home for sheer, dehumanizing impact on the jetlagged.
Let us not even DISCUSS the air-traffic control system, which once told a nervous United crew I was eavesdropping on (United lets you do this on occasion) that they were sorry, but they didn't know whether there was wind shear at the airport, because they had turned their detection equipment off to keep it from being damaged by a TORNADO which had just passed through. This was after we had been diverted to Harrisburg, PA (where our aircraft-carrier-experienced, ex-Marine copilot expertly landed our Triple-7 on a rather short runway), then bounced along in heavy turbulence/upper level wind shear for some 250 more miles to reach northern Virginia. Yay, Dulles!
Kiser, G (2012) "The WORST Airports in America: JD Power," Huffington Post. May 2, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/02/the-worst-airports-in-ame_n_482092.html#s71700&title=Dulles_International_ on June 3, 2012.