State Flagship

Maryland's colors have been flying high - at 38,000 feet, to be exact - on Southwest jet.

June 15, 2005|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

With the swing of a champagne bottle yesterday, Gov. Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr. christened Maryland One, a Boeing 737-700 coated in 60 gallons of red and yellow and black and white paint.

But if the chief executive wants to fly on the airplane, he'll have to buy a ticket like everyone else.

The plane, which took 512 man-hours to paint in the Maryland flag theme, is not a gubernatorial perk. It's the latest specialty plane in a Southwest Airlines fleet that includes five other state flag-themed planes, the airline's 25th-anniversary plane and three 737s painted like Sea World's orca whales.

Southwest executives said they wanted to fly Maryland's colors high - 38,000 feet high - as thanks for booking enough seats to make Baltimore-Washington International Airport its third-busiest hub. Arizona and Nevada, with the No. 1 and 2 hubs, also have lacquered tributes.

Maryland One flew in overnight from Seattle, where it was built and emblazoned, and touched down between regularly scheduled flights at BWI. Its unveiling was timed for Flag Day, the annual salute to the Stars and Stripes.

"It's appropriate on Flag Day, that the Maryland state flag fly higher than normal," said Colleen C. Barrett, Southwest's president.

It's unclear, however, whether the Maryland flag will be any more familiar to nonresidents who see it overhead than would be the state's founding Calvert family or the words to Maryland, My Maryland.

Some out-of-town Southwest workers on hand yesterday admitted they couldn't have picked the multicolored, checkered and crossed banner from one statehouse flagpole over another.

Some thought a Chesapeake crab-themed plane, claws closing on the doors or spanning the wings, might have been more familiar. As would have an American flag, of which many Marylanders feel ownership because it was here that it withstood the British "rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air."

Nonetheless, Ehrlich labeled it "cool," Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan called it "beautiful" and Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary C. Kelly declared it a "shining tribute."

At least one tourism expert thought it would send a message that Maryland is "hot."

"It's basically free advertising for the state, even if people aren't familiar with the flag," said Nancy Hinds, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "If I saw a big plane with a flag on it, I'd ask about it. It makes Maryland look important."

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