Relearning ABCs of parking at BWI

Fliers: Changes in designations of lots as part of expansion have caused confusion for travelers.

October 12, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

It was once blue, but now it's green. And it's not read all over.

It's the sign to the "Long Term A" lot - formerly called "Blue" lot - reminding travelers to and from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to take note of where they parked.

Travelers might need a scorecard, or at least a big green sign, to keep track of the parking changes at the growing airport. Officials changed the names of the long-term parking lots to conform with how other airports name their lots, but created confusion for some travelers because the switch happened while they were away on their trip.

The name changes are only part of a major expansion that includes a new garage and is costing the state $1.8 billion over five years. Many fliers praise the improvements, but are having trouble keeping up with the ABCs of parking at BWI.

"No, they don't remember," shuttle bus driver Carl Burrell said while making his rounds last week. "I really have to talk to people now and let them know where they are. ... They'll get used to [new names]. They'll have to."

In a half-hour circle from the terminal through Long Term A and Long Term B - formerly the Blue and Green lots - even Burrell struggled in the name game. At one point in "Long Term A," he told passengers they were in "Long Term B," his singular route on busier days.

"We're in A, yes, we're in A," he corrected himself, then muttered about the new names: "They're terrible."

Frequent fliers, their habits at BWI ingrained, appeared to have the most trouble adjusting.

"I'm always in the Green lot, but trouble is, now the new signs are all green," said David Stitt, a Pennsylvania businessman. "I've been doing this so long, I don't pay attention. I didn't notice right away the signs changed."

The Long Term lots cost $7 a day, with the seventh day free. A new daily garage charges a maximum of $9 a day. The hourly garage, the closest parking to the terminal, costs a maximum of $30 a day.

Growth at BWI prompted the new parking and other changes, such as a new rental car facility, a new concourse for Southwest Airlines and more security gates. Since the expansion program began in 2001, about 4,600 parking spots have been added, mostly in the new daily garage, for a total of about 27,000 at the airport.

During the next six months, 6,000 more spaces are to be added for a total of 33,000 spots. Private satellite lots add more than 3,000 spaces.

The hourly and daily garages are being equipped with "smart park," an automated system that directs motorists to lots with available space. The number of open spaces are marked in each row. A green light appears above those that are empty, a red light marks those that are full.

Drivers can pay for garage parking at free-standing machines in the garage, rather than at the gate as they exit, to cut down on waits. New signs, listing the choices with general price information, have been erected around the terminal.

"It was easy to find the garage, and I think the 'smart park' is a good idea," said Bharath Krishnaswamy, who works for Vienna, Va.-based Satyam Computer Services Ltd. and chose the hourly lot because he planned to be gone for just a day.

"The goal of the program is to make the airport more convenient and more customer friendly," said Jonathan O. Dean, an airport spokesman. "A major part of that is increasing parking capacity and parking options."

Dean said returning fliers at a total loss about where they parked can contact BWI officials. They will send someone to help search the 3,596-acre airport, he said.

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