European charter service picks BWI

April 28, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Could Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which attracts airfare bargain-hunters from all over the mid-Atlantic, become a mecca as well for frugal globe-trotters?

Starting in mid-June, Euram, a Washington tour operator, will offer two nonstop flights a week to Rome and one a week to Frankfurt, Germany, this summer.

While BWI currently offers a half-dozen regularly scheduled charter services to Mexico and the Caribbean, Euram is the first European charter service from the airport in nearly five years.

The proliferation of low-cost domestic flights that attract passengers to Baltimore was the critical factor in choosing BWI for the regularly scheduled charter operation, according to Euram President David Scott.

If a passenger wants to go from Cleveland to Rome, for example, he could fly to BWI for $39 on regular carriers and then take Euram's nonstop flight. "Typically you'd never get such a low cost add-on," Mr. Scott said. "BWI's become the low-cost hub on the East Coast."

Euram's round-trip fare from BWI to Rome will be $598; to Frankfurt, the round-trip fare is $398. Both are substantially below advertised prices on noncharter airlines.

Euram is the first international charter operation lured to BWI by its low domestic fares, but domestic charter companies have increased their service here because of the low-priced connections at BWI.

Nationwide, charter service has been booming as the U.S. economy rebounds and more people want to travel. With financially struggling major carriers cutting overseas flights, charter services are capitalizing on the increased demand.

In February, for instance, the number of charter passengers at BWI reached 16,000, a 69 percent increase over the same time a year earlier.

"The environment is literally ripe for charter business to take off," said Jay Hierholzer, associate administrator in charge of marketing at BWI.

The new Euram service -- which offers the only nonstop flight from the Baltimore-Washington area to Rome -- hopes to capitalize on heightened demand for travel to Europe, after a lull during the Persian Gulf war and the recession.

Typically, Euram, a large, 15-year-old tour operator, buys blocks of seats on regularly scheduled airlines such as British Airways and United Airlines, and resells them either directly to passengers or to travel agents. This year, however, seats to Europe have been less available from major carriers, so Euram will operate a charter service itself for the first time.

"There's a huge pent-up demand for Europe this summer," Mr. Scott said. "We were struggling to find seats." Euram will lease 356-seat DC-10s from the Dallas-based Express One International Inc. charter operation.

The new Euram charter operation also has leased a ticket counter at BWI for three years. Mr. Scott said Euram hopes to offer in the fall the first nonstop service on the East Coast to Honolulu, as well as a weekly flight to Ireland.

Typically, charter flights are offered one or more times a week during the most popular travel seasons. When the high season is over, they are discontinued or offered less frequently.

But even the more limited international charter service is welcome news for BWI, which has lost international passengers in recent years and currently offers only limited daily service to Europe.

Last May, BWI's largest European carrier, KLM, shifted its operation from BWI to Washington-Dulles International Airport.

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