Bearing gifts, bags, kids and pets, holiday travelers descended on Baltimore- Washington International Airport yesterday on what is traditionally the second busiest travel day of the year.
About 863,000 airline passengers are expected to pass through BWI between Dec. 20 and Jan. 4., airport officials said. Yesterday was due to be the most popular day, with the airport handling more than 68,000 travelers. Projections call for 66,500 passengers to return Jan. 4.
On average, BWI handles 41,000 passengers.
Jeff Murrin, station manager of Southwest Airlines at BWI, said yesterday was busier than past years because the number of flights at the airport has increased.
"There are such an extraordinary number of customers traveling today," said Murrin. "This morning, it was very much backed up. It probably took 45 minutes just to get through the security checkpoint."
But the backup was not caused by increased security measures, BWI officials said. Security has been heightened at airports nationwide, fearing possible attacks after the arrest this week of Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian charged with illegally carrying explosives into the United States and making false statements to customs authorities.
Because of its proximity to the nation's capital, BWI is always on a heightened security status, said airport spokesman John White.
"If you came into our airport right now, you wouldn't notice anything different," he said.
Other than the extra people.
Jim Woodhams, a Department of the Navy retiree who is a volunteer in an information booth, logged 281 requests for help between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. -- the most he had received.
Parking has been less congested than it was at Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day, said White. Figures on yesterday's parking situation were not available.
There were 10,800 vehicles parked overnight from Wednesday to yesterday, 2,100 more than last year, said White.
"We believe there is going to be a record number of people parking at BWI for this parking period," he said.
But travelers and people picking up passengers were in pretty good spirits.
"I'm amazed," said Kevin Sullivan, a driver for Eastern Shore Limousine Service. "Much better than normal."
There were problems -- flight delays, cancellations and the belated discovery that BWI does not want passengers to carry wrapped gifts.
"I didn't hear until [Wednesday] that you shouldn't travel with wrapped gifts, and I'm concerned that they're going to unwrap my children's gifts in front of them," said Patty Curran, a Washington resident traveling with her husband and two boys.
Curran had a carry-on bag stuffed with wrapped presents.
Sophie Wittelsberger, a Bel Air resident waiting for relatives flying in from South Carolina, watched people go by, carrying unwrapped gifts.
"Guess they'll be wrapping tonight or tomorrow," she said with a laugh.
Marianna Williams, 18, and her mother, Aslaug Williams, sat at the airport's Starbucks coffee shop. But they were not supposed to be at BWI at all.
They were supposed to be in Iceland.
Their American Airlines flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York was canceled Wednesday at the last minute, they said. The Williamses, of Virginia Beach, Va., were waiting for an 8: 10 p.m. direct flight on Icelandair.
Aslaug Williams, who has not visited her native Iceland for five years, was frustrated. "We were supposed to have family photos taken today," she said.
Philadelphia residents Amy and Dan Scanlon were on their way to St. Louis to see both sets of parents. They were bumped off an earlier Trans World Airlines flight and were waiting for a later one. They sat by a check-in counter, surrounded by luggage and tending to Tyler, their 7-year-old mixed breed dog.
"This is why we don't travel," Dan Scanlon said good-naturedly.
Anne and Alan Epstein of Columbia were equally good-natured about being at the end of a sizable line at another check-in counter.
Why not, they said. It's the holidays.
Tips for travelers
Baltimore-Washington International Airport offers these tips for smooth travel during the busiest travel season of the year:
1. Arrive early. For a domestic flight, plan to arrive two hours early; for an international flight, allow up to three hours. That gives you time to park in a satellite lot and ride a free airport shuttle.
2. Use mass transit. Light rail arrives at BWI's international pier every 17 minutes. Overnight parking at the North Linthicum and Warren Road stations is free.
3. Take Maryland Rail Commuter trains and Amtrak. A free shuttle to the airport terminal runs every 10 minutes from BWI's train. For light rail and MARC train information: 800-543-9809 or 410-539-5000, or check the Mass Transit Administration's Web site, www.mtamaryland.com.
4. Use a van service, taxi or limousine.
5. Tune your car radio to 1040 AM for parking information once you are within five miles of BWI and watch message boards on the roads. Free shuttles from parking lots run every 10 to 20 minutes.
6. For pick-up and drop-off, remember the first half-hour of parking at the BWI garage is free.
7. Do not leave a vehicle unattended on airport roads. A driverless vehicle will be ticketed and towed.
8. Do not leave luggage and bags unattended. Do not accept packages from strangers.
9. Be ready to show identification. Two forms of ID, one with a photo or a government-issued ID, are required by most airlines.
10. Gifts should be unwrapped, especially if items could be mistaken as dangerous. Tell security workers whether they are in luggage or are carry-on luggage.
11. Call the airline before departure to confirm flight status. Check flight status through BWI's Web site, www.bwiairport.com.