Efforts to transform Baltimore-Washington International Airport into a hub for both rail and air travel got a boost yesterday when Icelandair and Amtrak announced that they have entered into a joint ticketing agreement.
The deal means that a traveler in Philadelphia or Washington can buy a plane ticket to Europe and get an Amtrak ticket to BWI with one phone call to the airline. Both boarding passes will be on the same ticket. A discount will be offered as an incentive for travelers to leave their cars behind when choosing BWI over rival airports in the other two cities.
Rail-to-plane agreements are common in Europe, but this is the first such agreement in the United States. In addition to its potential for bringing more passengers to the region's fastest-growing airport, the agreement could become a model for other airlines serving the Northeast as Amtrak struggles to increase ridership and airports strive to reduce congestion in crowded parking lots.
"I think this Icelandic deal is sort of a bellwether," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.
Local travel agents say such arrangements work well in Europe and are likely catch on in the United States.
"That's fantastic. I wish more airlines would do that," said Lezine Moundaya, a travel agent with American Express Travel in Baltimore.
In announcing a $1.8 billion expansion plan at BWI in the summer of last year, Maryland transportation officials said a long-term goal was to develop an expanded rail hub that would allow passengers to check their baggage at the Baltimore or Washington train stations, ride a train to the airport, catch a plane and pick up their luggage again when they arrive at their destination.
A proposed monorail would transport air passengers from the BWI rail station to the main terminal. Currently, passengers take a shuttle bus to the terminal from an adjacent Amtrak station.
The airport's plan fits with Amtrak's latest strategy to increase ridership. Amtrak officials said they approached Icelandair with the ticket-sharing proposal because the airline is aggressive in its marketing.
Icelandair handled 106,877 passengers at BWI last year, making it second to British Airways among international carriers at the airport.
In addition to BWI, Icelandair serves Boston; John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Minneapolis; Orlando, Fla.; and Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"What this agreement says to us is that it's possible for us to maybe do other agreements with other airlines," said Barbara Richardson, executive vice president of Amtrak.
BWI was chosen as a starting point for the ticket arrangement in part because the airport is among the few that have convenient access to an Amtrak line and a growing number of travelers are using it. The number of Amtrak riders to BWI increased 15 percent last year, Richardson said, and research has found that 40 percent of those passengers are catching flights at BWI.
Icelandair estimates that 5,000 passengers will make use of the ticketing agreement in the next year, generating about $3 million in ticket revenue. The rail-to-plane deal also will be marketed to the airline's European customers who are traveling to Baltimore, Washington and other Northeast destinations with Amtrak service.
Debbie Scott, a spokeswoman for Icelandair, said the airline expects to expand its market.
Connecting trains to planes is a growing trend in the Northeast, home to some of the most congested airports in the country. Beginning in the fall, Newark International Airport will have a monorail connection to a nearby Amtrak station, cutting transit times for passengers heading to New York City.
"We're telling people they'll be able to get to New York City from Newark airport in less than half an hour," said Bob McHugh, a spokesman for Continental Airlines.
T. F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I., is working on a similar rail connection that is scheduled for completion next year. JFK airport is connecting trains to its terminals in a bid to diminish vehicle traffic at the airport.