BWI expects 190,000 for holiday, a record Warning: With a record holiday crowd expected at BWI, passengers with cars to park are asked to arrive as much as two hours, 45 minutes before their flights.

November 26, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

Suppose things go swimmingly at Baltimore-Washington International Airport this week. Everybody arrives two hours early via train or bus. Time-consuming security restrictions are lifted. And nobody abandons a rental car in front of the terminal, setting off a bomb scare.

Well, chances are it would be chaotic anyway. After all, it's Thanksgiving -- the busiest travel time of the year.

Airport officials predict 190,000 passengers, 10,000 more than last year, moving through BWI for the five-day holiday period. Tomorrow and again Monday, 53,000 people -- nearly twice the daily average -- are expected to scramble through the terminal, queuing at ticket counters, rushing to gates and elbowing for a spot at the baggage carousel.

Flights are heavily booked as college students rush home and families come together for the holiday season that seems to stretch longer and longer each year.

"The rush of holiday travelers is as traditional as turkey on the menu, and we believe we are ready for the traffic," said Ted Mathison, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates BWI.

Seven-hundred parking spaces have been added in the garage, along with two spillover satellite lots. Much of the roadway construction in front of the terminal is complete. But, with other construction still under way and security restrictions tight, airport officials are urging passengers to arrive at least two hours before their flights.

Southwest Airlines recently began discount service to the popular New England market, with eight flights a day to Providence, R.I. Many airlines have extended fare sales through the holidays and some are offering deals to keep travel high on off-peak days such as Thanksgiving and Friday.

In October, the 1.2 million passengers who traveled through the airport topped all previous records for the month and represented a 7.5 percent increase over October 1995.

"It will be congested, heavily traveled," said John Brillant, a BWI customer service representative facing his fourth Thanksgiving week at the airport. "Our aim is to keep BWI a user-friendly airport."

For months, however, passengers once accustomed to an easy-to-use BWI have struggled with parking problems and roadway construction. While orange cones still block some lanes, much of the construction bottlenecks in front of the terminal no longer exist. Motorists can use the two-lane ramps leading directly from the upper and lower levels to I-195 and to Elm Road and satellite parking lots.

But construction work continues on the $130 million international terminal, adjacent to the main terminal, and on the parking garage extension.

The garage work has resulted in fewer parking spaces close to the terminal. That shortage has forced many motorists to park in the satellite lots where they can board free shuttle buses to the main terminal. But in recent months, passengers have faced waits up to 45 minutes -- frequently watching packed shuttle buses pass them by.

Airport officials say that during the holidays, shuttle buses will be running every 12 minutes, often two at a time. Still, officials say passengers should allow 45 minutes for parking and getting to the terminal -- on top of the 90 minutes to 2 hours that the airlines recommend.

About 18,000 public parking spaces are available over the holiday weekend. The most plentiful and least expensive -- $5 a day with the seventh day free -- are the Blue and Green satellite parking lots, on Aviation Boulevard. In addition, the Daily Express lot on Aviation Boulevard offers 1,100 spaces for $7 a day. Both are served by shuttle buses.

Motorists are urged to go directly to satellite parking lots by using the Md. 170, or the Aviation Boulevard exit. Airport officials have designated two overflow parking lots -- Satellite Gold off Dorsey Road and Satellite Pink near the BWI rail station.

In addition, they have freed up 700 additional parking spaces in the main garage by temporarily moving rental cars to an area outside behind the garage construction. Rental car customers will be offered shuttle bus service.

Airport authorities also are urging passengers to use public transportation rather than drive.

MARC and Amtrak trains provide service to the BWI rail station, with a free shuttle bus to the terminal every 10 minutes.

But for those who drive, up-to-the-minute parking lot information is available by calling 1 (800) I-FLY-BWI or by tuning into the airport-area radio network, 1040 AM. Information also will be available on electronic message signs on roadways leading to BWI.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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