ANNAPOLIS – The good news about visiting family and friends this Thanksgiving is that airport security is now a smooth operation, but whether leaving by plane, train, bus or car, holiday travelers can expect to face a crowd.
A year after new federal security rules were imposed, the state says that catching a flight out of Baltimore/Washington International, the region’s busiest airport, should be faster and more efficient than last year.
The experience might even be pleasant.
“I found them to be very organized, very professional and very courteous,” said Thomas Imperiale, a Towson attorney who noticed BWI security improvements throughout the summer. “Because they were so organized . . . you moved very quickly.”
Customer satisfaction is a welcome change for the airport, which struggled with long waits last year after the federal government chose BWI to field-test new screening procedures and security personnel. With a year of experience – and added security checkpoints and employees – the airport is ready for the turkey day surge.
“The big difference in Thanksgiving travel is the difference in no lines,” said Melanie Miller, a BWI spokeswoman. “We struggled through security last year.”
Lines may look long, say frequent airport users, but it takes, at most, 15 minutes to weave through security, even at the piers serving busy Southwest Airlines.
Signs telling passengers to have bags, lap-top computers and cell phones ready for inspection also help speed the searches.
One tip: Miller suggested packing film in carry-on bags to save time, since new inspection equipment will ruin film.
Lines will be longer this week, with nearly 650,000 passengers expected at BWI between Nov. 22 and Dec. 1. The number of passengers at BWI this year is about 5 percent less than 2000’s record totals.
Things have improved by half, according to the airport, which now recommends arriving at BWI 90 minutes prior to a flight. Last year, travelers were told to allow three hours for check-in and security.
Despite more planning by transportation officials and travelers, some still report lingering problems – such as parking.
Problems with airport buses led Martin Annette, a researcher with Johns Hopkins University in Howard County, to stop using satellite parking lots.
“Buses would not come for half an hour, then 100 would come at once,” said Annette, who is flying to Minnesota with his wife, Mary, Thanksgiving morning to avoid crowds.
BWI is building a new 8,800-space garage, Miller said, and 3,000 of those spaces – as well as a new 1,600-space surface lot – will be open for Thanksgiving.
Many commuters, Miller said, are also using Metro buses from the Greenbelt station and light rail to ease airport arrivals.
For frequent-flyer Imperiale, parking has not been an issue and BWI’s changes have been for the better.
“It’s such a distinct change from what it used to be,” he said.
But, Imperiale said, he did not take any chances and planned this week’s trip to Cancun around BWI’s busiest days.
Airports are not the only mode of transportation dealing with holiday crowds and new security procedures.
Amtrak has instituted security measures riders will notice – such as checking photo identifications – and others riders should not – including more undercover officers.
More than 550,000 riders will travel on the railway this week, prompting Amtrak to add 58 trains in the Northeast corridor between Tuesday and Sunday. During Thanksgiving week, said spokeswoman Karina Van Neen, Amtrak carries twice its average number of passengers.
Marylanders will also be hitting the road for the holidays, with New York City and Williamsburg, Va., the top travel destinations, according to the American Automobile Association.
More than 616,000 people will drive at least 50 miles from home this week according to estimates, said Myra Wieman, spokeswoman for AAA Maryland, up just over 1 percent from 2001.
Planning ahead and avoiding the peak travel days of Wednesday and Sunday, can help alleviate problems, she said.
Gas is averaging $1.47 per gallon statewide, $.27 more than last year, said Wieman. Prices have been stable through the fall and supplies are abundant, she said, which is favorable for driving.