At BWI, much longer waits, half-empty flights

Terrorism Strikes America

Business Impact

September 18, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The orange fence blocks now-forbidden parking spaces, the yellow signs warn of security checkpoints. Airport personnel flashing red badges flock to help those in line, while airport police in blue windbreakers rush between the conveyor belts and the ticket counters.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport looked as close to normal as it has since it shut down one week ago, after terrorists hijacked four planes and killed thousands of people.

But for the region's busiest airport, normal won't be the same, at least for the time being.

BWI's flight schedule was 90 percent in operation yesterday, with 678 of the airport's daily flights scheduled to leave, compared with 12 on Thursday, when the airport reopened. Airport officials say BWI could be back to its regular schedule of 750 flights per day by today.

Even so, the usually bustling corridors were empty yesterday. Airport staff seemed to outnumber passengers for much of the afternoon. Travelers reported stretching out on half-empty planes.

"It's better than normal, it's great," said John Zahner, a chef from Framingham, Mass., on his way to Las Vegas.

Passengers say fewer fliers means more room, shorter lines and fewer scrambles to stuff suitcases in overhead bins.

But some changes will not sit well with passengers.

Overnight, the airport terminal parking garage lost 1,000 of its 4,700 spaces, said BWI spokeswoman Amy Knight.

Those spaces now fall within the airport's expanded security perimeter, which stretches 300 feet from the terminal. The 85 cars in that part of the garage Tuesday were towed to the sixth floor, their vacated spaces now cordoned off with a fluorescent orange fence.

The usually bustling BWI was eerily quiet. Curbside check-in is no more, and curbside lingering in vehicles is strongly discouraged by airport police.

Employees in red badges are stationed at every security counter to guarantee that no one gets to the gate without a ticket. Customer service representatives stand near ticket counters, directing passengers. More airline employees patrol the lines, walkie-talkies in hand, to see if anyone has a flight taking off within the hour.

Airport officials say the changes will be in effect indefinitely.

Airlines initially told passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights but changed that Saturday night to four hours. Yesterday, many passengers heeded the advice.

John Layton left his brother's home in York, Pa., at 11 a.m. to catch a US Airways flight at 4:15 p.m. to Jacksonville, Fla. His Sunday flight was canceled, so he was a day late returning to his job as a Navy engine repairman.

"We were surprised he was able to leave this week," said his brother, Lance Layton.

Bill and Jewel Bishop left about the same time as the Laytons from their home in Fredericksburg, Va., for their 4 p.m. American Airlines flight to Las Vegas.

The Bishops had a plan for their extra time.

"Tour the airport, use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, try to find a place to smoke," Jewel Bishop said.

Their children Billy, 9, and Jessica, 7, had never flown before and wanted to watch planes take off.

The Bishops thought about postponing their vacation but decided not to. Because of the heightened security, they checked more bags than usual. But like most travelers at BWI, they seemed grateful for the extra security checks.

"It's safer now, probably, than it ever was," said Bill Bishop, who owns a construction business. "And it won't be crowded now, will it?"

Leslye Hughes, an accountant from New Orleans who has been trying to return home for two days, arrived at BWI shortly after noon for her 3:25 p.m. flight.

Hughes, 51, was visiting her son in Washington last week and was scheduled to fly out of Reagan National Airport. Because that airport is closed indefinitely, US Airways rebooked her out of BWI.

"Very inconvenient," Hughes said. "We didn't know how to get here."

Hughes learned later that the inconveniences had just begun. Shortly after 1 p.m., US Airways canceled her flight.

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