Vol. 10, No. 1
January 3 - 9, 2002 
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BWI: Turning Travel Into Torture

We’ve flown a fair amount since September 11: a half-dozen trips to cities in four states and Canada. We’ve also fetched people arriving at Washington-area airports and returned them when their visit had ended.

And we can tell you that no airport that we have seen, heard about or even imagined is as difficult and maddening to negotiate these days as Anne Arundel County’s own Baltimore-Washington International.

Unless you’re retired, have vast blocks of spare time or don’t mind endless lines that border on abuse, our advice to you at this moment in time is find another airport. Drive. Or take the train.

We’ve flown out of BWI twice since mid-December and observed snaking lines with hundreds and hundreds of beleaguered, flummoxed and downright enraged people waiting for tickets or at security checkpoints. The worst problems are at the Southwest Airlines terminals, where people are enduring heaps of aggravation for the low fares they pay.

Outside the terminal, depositing travelers or picking them up after a flight has become an exercise in defying the laws of physics given the strict enforcement of no-stopping rules. If ever there is an Olympic sport of Jumping into Moving Autos While Carrying Your Luggage, Marylanders should take home the medals. Because the moment you stop, police yell at you to get moving.

Inside, the number of guardsmen gripping M-16s resembles no other airport we’ve seen — with the possible exception of Guatemala City in its revolutionary days. While standing in line, travelers are subjected to unending loudspeaker lectures about what they can’t do, like take “gifts” through magnetometers. (We assume this means gift-wrapped packages but that isn’t explained.)

We understand the need for heightened security in the aftermath of September 11. But there’s smart security, which involves careful random scrutiny and monitoring high-risk passengers who, say, buy $2,000 tickets the day they travel and carry no luggage.

And there’s chaos. (Speaking of security, we wonder why the state didn’t block the hiring in November by two airlines at BWI of a private security company with a spotty record.)

You may or may not know that BWI is a state-run enterprise, a business that pumps over $6 billion yearly into Maryland’s economy. But the scenes we’ve witnessed support those who argue that privatizing should be the path of the future.

When we mentioned over the phone recently to a knowing Midwesterner that we were flying out of BWI the next day, he laughed and then remarked: “Better get to the airport now.”

What his little joke suggested is that around the country, BWI is getting a reputation for delay and confusion that may take a long time to shed. And locally, we’ve heard folks say flatly: “We’re done with BWI.”

That’s what happens when you make a mockery out of your own slogan as the “Easy Come, Easy Go” airport.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly