The “Plane Mate” is a variation of a mobile lounge. They are similar in appearance to mobile lounges, but can raise themselves to “mate” directly with an aircraft. This allows passengers to deplane directly aboard and be carried to the main terminal.

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Ad Meskens/Wikimedia Commons

The famous people mover and plane mate vehicles at Dulles Airport are getting costly a facelift.

The mobile lounge/people movers get airport passengers from the main terminal to Concourse D, which is not connected to the aerotrain. The plane mates act like a mobile jet bridge, taking passengers right up to the door of parked planes.

Dulles was created at the peak of the jet age when airports were getting bigger and passengers no longer walked up a staircase to a propeller plane. Dulles architect Eero Saarinen saw mobile lounges as a convenient way to shorten walks from ticket counters to far-off planes.

A Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority committee approved $16 million to completely rehabilitate two of the 60-plus-year-old vehicles. That renovation, which will require a “complete ground up re-engineer and design” of a new vehicle on the old chassis, will take about three years.

If airport officials are pleased with the renovations from the Brookville Equipment Corporation, they’ll have to vote on whether or not to fix the rest of the 18 mobile lounges and 29 plane mate vehicles over the next six years. That project slated to cost $160 million in total. MWAA first put it out for procurement before the pandemic, but now costs have gotten higher thanks to the specialized components.

Manufacturers aren’t building mobile lounges anymore as most airports have moved to train-based transportation between concourses. The original manufacturer no longer supports the vehicles, either.

Board members were mixed on the appeal of the lounges. One said that the mobile lounges are not “the most popular feature of Dulles” while another said they find the user experience to be very good.

The refurbished vehicles will have another 20 years of useful life and after that airport authorities will find alternative transportation. One possible option is the expansion of the automated aerotrain, which Dulles launched to most concourses in 2010.

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