Next year, passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport might be able to pull up to the terminal, hand their keys to a valet, order a carwash and drop off their dog with a kennel attendant.
Now that thousands of parking spaces have been added near the terminal as part of a $1.8 billion airport improvement program, managers are contemplating smaller ways to pamper those who are time-starved or have found parking inconvenient, expensive or otherwise unpleasant in the past.
Competition from cheaper private lots has been growing as the airport has expanded, taking potential business from BWI. Also, the management contract for BWI's parking garages, which expires early next year, is set for renewal by the state Monday. Those two factors prompted airport operators to consider offering new services.
BWI managers have made a commitment to buy 50 new buses to take passengers to and from their cars, and they plan a "garage sale" for the holidays in the hourly parking structure nearest to the terminal. Parking will be $20 a day instead of $30 from Monday to Jan. 15.
Paul J. Wiedefeld, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates BWI, called the reduced price a bonus to customers during the crush of the season. He noted that travelers' parking experiences can leave lasting impressions and that improvements can help the airport's image in the face of competition and complaints.
"Parking is a large aspect of airports, and we're looking for ways to boost services," Wiedefeld said this week during a meeting of the Maryland Aviation Commission, an advisory board.
The car washing, valet and dog care - nicknamed "park and bark" - are just ideas stemming from brainstorming among staff. Some services are available elsewhere, such as valet parking and car washes, but airport managers were unsure whether the dog kennel idea had been tried. They are deciding which amenities to pursue, how much they would cost and who would operate them.
For now, they are focusing on parking.
Maryland Parking LP operates the airport's parking, and BWI officials are recommending renewal of its contract to oversee about 30,000 public spaces in three garages and three lots. Records from the state Department of Public Works, which is responsible for approving the contract, show that the deal is estimated to produce $286 million in concession fees during the next five years.
Airport parking is becoming a bigger business, with at least three private lots operating nearby. Econopark Express LLC plans to open another one in the spring with 1,200 spaces.
Shirley L. Gerard, Econopark's partner and general manager, said she will compete by charging less than the $8 a day it costs to park in BWI's long-term lots and by offering more.
"The bus will follow you to your car when you enter the lot, wait until you're ready, help you with your bags and give you a slip so you remember where you parked," she said.
Travel agents say lots at and around BWI are competitive with those at other airports. Parking at Philadelphia International Airport costs from $8 daily for long-term parking to $38 daily for short-term. Other airports, such as Washington Dulles International Airport, offer valet service.
But Jay Ellenby, chief executive of Safe Harbors Travel Group in Baltimore, said BWI should consider competition in its back yard and continue to look for new services to offer. He said his clients complain about the prices of parking and the waiting time for buses.
"Discounts always draw people," he said. "The services will keep people coming, too, although I'm not so sure about the dog kennel. It's good to see them making adjustments."
Kevin Abell, regional director of Roland Park Travel and other travel agency divisions of Houston-based Frosch International Travel, said some of his high-end clients use off-site parking lots because they guarantee spaces for regular customers. But those lots, like BWI's long-term lots, are too far from the terminal, he said.
"The one thing I don't understand is why they built the lots in never-never land," he said. "It is too far to walk to the terminal. There is no shuttle train, like so many other airports have, so you end up waiting for a shuttle bus, just like the off-site lots. But the big difference is, the off-site lots pull right up to your car to help you load and unload, something that is a big plus factor for women who may need help with their bags and are security-conscious."
Abell said some of his clients who use car services might be tempted by the valet parking for its convenience and the $20 holiday garage parking offer.
The newest garage at BWI, called the daily garage, opened this year. It costs $10 a day, has 8,400 parking spaces, and customers must take the bus to the terminal.