Circling BWI, but not in a plane

July 08, 1998|By Henry H. Emurian

RECENTLY, when I arrived at the airport in Mexico City, it immediately was clear to me that it was designed for travelers like me. I don't speak Spanish, but the various multilingual signs helped me get through the congested corridors to retrieve my baggage, conduct business with customs and quickly get transportation to my hotel.

Upon my return to Baltimore, a different situation greeted me at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Upon disembarking, I saw a sign directing passengers to the baggage claim area. But I felt somewhat uneasy when I didn't see additional markers for some time along the route. Eventually, an arrow directed me down the steps to baggage claim.

Once at baggage claim, I was greeted by six luggage-bearing carousels. Which one contained my luggage? The names of several airlines were painted on one wall, so I took a leap of faith and assumed that I should go to the carousels near my carrier's name.

For a time, I danced between three carousels, looking for my luggage. The overhead electronic signs at each carousel that are to light up with flight information remained dark. Furthermore, there was no indication that the darkened display was ever intended to bear information.

When I finally did spot a bag that I thought was mine, I hastily grabbed it. Unlike Mexico City, there's no airport employee posted to compare claim checks. In fact, I had picked up a bag that wasn't mine. Fortunately, it happened to belong to a man standing next to me, and with understanding and humor, he made me realize my error.

Eventually, I got my bag and then lugged it along a corridor, looking for signs to help me find the satellite parking lot bus. At the door, a "ground transportation" sign directed me outside. But there was no one around to point out which of the many vehicles I needed.

Passed by

I spotted a sign with a symbol of a bus on it and the words "ground transportation." Soon I saw the satellite blue bus coming and prepared to board. No such luck. The nearly empty bus passed right by me.

About 10 minutes later, another blue bus came into view. I tried to wave the bus over, but the driver kept going, shaking his head "no" and pointing to a place up ahead. I grabbed my bags and ran about 40 yards. When I finally reached the now stopped bus, I saw a "satellite parking" bus stop sign, which cannot be seen from inside or immediately outside the terminal.

Upon boarding the bus, I explained my confusion to the driver, who said that he had heard that complaint about the obscure sign a million times.

In our hectic world, if you keep an open mind and a watchful eye, you'll probably find the right sign to direct you where you need to go. But at BWI, I wouldn't count on it.

Henry H. Emurian is an associate professor of information systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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