Passengers adapt

lines at BWI evaporate

Thursday's confusion, delays give way to an orderly Friday


The three friends knew they should arrive at the airport early, so they packed carefully the night before. They put everything -- clothing, cell phones, lipstick -- into the large suitcases they would check at the ticket counter.

The plan was to brave the long, chaotic lines, suffer through the security checkpoints. Then, once inside Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, they'd have a big breakfast before boarding their flight to Toronto.

It turns out they over-prepared.

When they arrived at the Air Canada counter yesterday about 6:30 a.m. to check in for their 9:30 a.m. flight, no one was there. They tried to get coffee, but the airport cafe hadn't opened yet.

"We could have slept another hour," said Bea McCarthy of Greenbelt.

When they finally got to check in, the line at the ticket counter contained only about a dozen people at a time. And the line for security? There wasn't one.

"This is so calm," said Janette West. "This is really nothing."

A day after British authorities announced that they had foiled a terrorist plot to bomb airplanes headed for the United States, travelers at BWI had largely adjusted to the escalated terror alert and new security restrictions banning liquid or liquid-like items from carry-on bags.

Lines at ticket counters and at security checkpoints were longer than usual for a Friday -- already one of the busiest travel days -- but were much shorter than they had been Thursday and appeared to be constantly moving.

"There's still some education being done," said James F. Ports Jr., deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, after he recalled a woman who asked him yesterday whether skin moisturizer qualified as a liquid. (It does.) But, he said, "It's been a much better day than [Thursday]."

Indeed, travelers at BWI yesterday seemed prepared, and early. Most were aware that they could not bring such items as shampoo, toothpaste or hair gel in their carry-on bags and packed accordingly.

As airport rush hour died down about 9 a.m., large trash cans placed near ticket lines and lines for security checkpoints were mostly empty, save for empty cups and newspapers.

Ports said that during peak rush hour, shortly after 7 a.m., he watched a man make his way through the security line and timed his wait at 14 minutes. After 9 a.m., the wait was about 10 minutes in the security lines in Concourses A and B.

Gwen Addison, 40, who was headed to a convention in Tampa, said she was told to arrive two to three hours early for her flight. But she was nearly through a long ticket line in about 15 minutes and was eyeing the lines at the security gate, which seemed to be moving even faster.

"I'm surprised. It's moving," she said.

In some places in the airport, lines at airline ticket counters appeared to be longer than the lines at the security points.

Clara Harris, 23, and her husband, Michael Newton, 25, of Philadelphia were traveling for the first time with their 3-month-old twin girls, Isabella and Clarabella, who wore matching pink bows tied around their heads.

They were among those who did not arrive at the airport super-early, and they got to the Southwest ticket line about an hour before their scheduled flight. But they had carefully followed the restrictions, which allow for baby formula and breast milk onboard a plane, and weren't worried about making it through security.

They said they were not worried about terrorists, or even about making their plane on time, but they were worried about one thing.

"We're most concerned that we might have to taste the formula," Harris said.

Linda Lawson, 52, of Atlanta, said she felt unaffected by the new security measures. She had taken a 9:30 p.m. flight from Atlanta to BWI on Thursday and was heading for Jamaica yesterday.

She said she encountered no long lines in Atlanta, and before she went to the airport there, she made sure to pack according to the new rules. Yesterday she was at BWI more than 3 1/2 hours early only because she was traveling with a group, she said. They wondered what they would do to kill the time until their flight.

"From what we saw on TV, I expected chaos," Lawson said.

Though she said she hates taking off her shoes for security, she thought the new restrictions were reasonable and easy to comply with.

"If they think it's making it safer for us, then we just do what we have to do," she said.

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