Mexicana Airlines plans to offer one direct flight daily to Mexico City from Baltimore-Washington International Airport beginning Dec. 2, giving a boost to the $140 million international terminal that opened in 1997 but has failed to attract major overseas service.
The airport already offers flights to Cancun among its approximately dozen daily international departures. But officials who announced the service yesterday said the flights are geared to business travelers headed to the Mexican capital or connecting to other major Latin American cities.
This will be the second time Mexicana has offered service from BWI. In 1986 it began a daily flight to Cancun, but the airline said the route was unprofitable and left five years later.
"Back then it was a leisure market, and things have changed since then tremendously," said Adolfo Crespo, executive vice president of public affairs and customer service for Mexicana. "Now, we're targeting the business community, the student community and the very fast-growing Mexican-American community that has much more disposable income."
Mexicana will become the seventh carrier at BWI to offer international service. In all, they offer service to 10 destinations in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and a handful of other places.
In contrast, there are 63 domestic routes. The airport has made a name for itself in the low-cost domestic market, largely on the back of discount leader Southwest Airlines, which offers 164 daily flights.
Most of the international carriers are small, although British Airways offers several flights a week to London.
BWI's William Donald Schaefer International Pier has had ups and downs in the past year, with the airline USA 3000 beginning service in 2004 to Bermuda and Florida. It's now one of the airport's top 10 carriers. That helped offset losses from Air Ghana, grounded last summer, and Aer Lingus, which left in November.
Much of the region's international service is provided by Washington Dulles International Airport, where 20 carriers provide service to 37 destinations and United Airlines maintains its largest East Coast European gateway. To the north, Philadelphia International Airport also remains a major international hub for US Airways.
Mexicana, controlled by the Mexican government since the mid-1990s when it bailed out the financially struggling airline, is based in Mexico City and serves 29 Mexican cities, four Central American cities and four South American cities. It also recently launched a low-fare arm that operates within Mexico.
Paul J. Wiedefeld, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which oversees the airport, said officials there had been talking to Mexicana for years and continues discussions with other prospective tenants.
He acknowledged the challenge in marketing to carriers when other airports in the region are considered the international hubs. Wiedefeld sells the region as a large population center that is as close to downtown Washington as Dulles.
Passengers in the terminal yesterday said international service in general from BWI was OK, even if they could not fly directly to their destinations and had to connect through other airports. Others such as Dwight Grant, flying home to Bermuda on USA 3000, said BWI now had good direct service.
"I take advantage of the service here as often as I can," Grant said.