BWI girds for holiday travel rush

Despite recent events, only 8 percent drop in passengers predicted

`Very happy with that'

Officials say travelers should expect lines, beefed-up security

November 20, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The busiest travel weekend of the year will be less busy at Baltimore-Washington International Airport this year.

But only a little bit less.

Airport officials expect 377,000 passengers to travel through BWI, beginning tomorrow, during the holiday weekend. Tomorrow and Sunday are expected to be the heaviest days, with more than 66,000 people traveling on each of those days.

Though the figures are 8 percent lower than last year's, "we're very happy with that total," said BWI spokeswoman Melanie Miller.

The relatively strong numbers illustrate that neither the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nor last week's crash of American Airlines Flight 587 has deterred most passengers from going home for Thanksgiving.

"I'm a little anxious," said Neal Gallab, a 49-year-old elementary school principal who passed through BWI on his way to Connecticut last week and plans to fly to Florida this weekend for a family get-together. "But you can't change your life because something may or may not happen."

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Christine Turneabe-Connelly said that although the airline isn't seeing the record number of travelers it did last year, traffic out of BWI will be brisk this weekend. BWI is Southwest's fourth-busiest airport, with 134 flights daily.

"People are wanting to be with families, especially this year," she said.

For those who haven't flown since Sept. 11, the changes at BWI will be hard to miss. Infantry soldiers from the Maryland National Guard walk among passengers, their M-16s slung over their shoulders. Police officers from the Maryland Transportation Authority also roam the terminals, some staffing security checkpoints.

Passengers shouldn't be shocked to be greeted by "Pilgrims" speaking in a 17th-century idiom, part of a program to lighten the mood.

One of BWI's four explosives-detection machines, each the size of a sport utility vehicle, is already scanning checked luggage at Delta's pier.

Still, passengers can expect that lines, a staple of the holiday travel season, will be longer than last year's as agents search bags and question passengers.

"They'll be in line longer, and they may have to show their identification up to four times," airport spokeswoman Amy Knight said.

As a result, passengers should keep IDs handy. Digging though a purse or wallet to find a driver's license may take only 30 seconds, but multiplied by each person standing in line, the delay could become significant.

Pack smart

Smart packing is also crucial in avoiding delays. Tweezers, razors and nail clippers are fine in checked luggage, but passengers who try to carry them on planes will likely lose the items and risk holding up security lines. Knight refers passengers to BWI's Web site, www.bwiairport.com, which has posted a photograph of all banned items.

Airlines are stepping up their random searches of checked baggage, so passengers should prepare to open their bags. Wrapped presents, Turneabe-Connelly said, are a bad idea.

"Obviously, a bad guy could put something in a present," she said, "so we'll have to unwrap them."

Travelers should arrive at the airport two hours early and remember the Federal Aviation Administration's new carry-on rule: one carry-on per customer, plus a personal item, such as a briefcase or purse.

For passengers checking bags, U.S. Airways spokesman David Castelveter suggests writing names and addresses inside in case baggage tags are lost.

Most airlines offer curbside check-in, though passengers who use it should not linger. Police man the curbs, and a tow truck waits on the terminal road should it be needed.

Meals reduced

Castelveter also reminds passengers that US Airways and other airlines have cut back on meal service for shorter flights. Because airport officials advise against carrying beverages and utensils through the security checkpoints, it's best to pack a sandwich or buy food near the gate.

All passengers need tickets or itinerary printouts to reach the gates. Those traveling without tickets or itineraries will have to wait at the ticket counter for an agent to print one out, Turneabe-Connelly said.

A new bus service and a new parking lot opened this month to help passengers reach the airport. The new BWI Express Metro bus service leaves the Greenbelt Metro station for the airport every 40 minutes and costs $2, or $1.15 for those transferring from the Metro system to the bus.

The new BWI Daily B lot, near the Sheraton Hotel, provides 1,400 additional spaces and charges $11 a day.

Satellite parking lots will be available, and the Gold lot offers BWI's best bargains at $4 a day, with the seventh day free. The catch is, the Gold Lot won't be open until tomorrow.

Leave jokes at home

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