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Travelers report long lines at BWI as spring break kicks off

Transportation IndustryTransportation Security AdministrationAmerican AirlinesAirTran

Frustrated travelers reported long lines at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Friday morning, as crowds jammed into terminals on their way out of town as local schools prepared to let out for spring break.

The delays followed the closure Friday morning of one of BWI Marshall Airport's best-kept secrets in swift security navigation: the temporary security checkpoint on the airport's lower level—used by savvy travelers to avoid the crush at the upper level security lines for Concourses A and B.

The checkpoint was removed to make way for continued construction of a nine-lane checkpoint, though because of its relative obscurity, it's unclear whether its closure impacted lines.

Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman, said the airport is "routinely busy" and was Friday, but the morning security checkpoint wait times of between 20 and 30 minutes weren't out of the ordinary.

The new nine-lane checkpoint, expected to open later this spring, will serve the concourses now used by Southwest and AirTran but also the carriers using Concourse C, airport officials said — and will reduce waits once it's completed.

Lines on the other side of security could get shorter soon, too. American Airlines officials have confirmed they are testing a new boarding process at BWI that allows customers with no carry-on luggage to board planes early. The test is to see if the change would shorten boarding times for everyone.

Some at the airport on Friday said the lines were abnormal, even for the morning rush. And the removal of the temporary checkpoint during the spring break bump in travel was "not the best planning," said Thomas Toch, 58, of Chevy Chase, as he stood in line for a flight.

"There are more people here than they can handle and they're not doing a great job moving the huge crowd here through security," said Toch, who was flying to Nashville for weekend vacation.

Dean said the closed security checkpoint "wasn't used to a great degree by travelers" when it was open, and lines had more to do with this being a busy time of year.

"The airport has been quite busy in recent weeks," he said.

On Friday morning, travelers wondered aloud about other possible reasons as well.

Some questioned whether the delays, which saw lines extending down the Southwest terminal, were at least in part due to federal budget cuts known as sequestration, and their diminishing the Transportation Security Administration's ability to do its job.

As part of a statement on sequestration released earlier this month, the TSA said that as the cuts take effect, "travelers can expect to see lines and wait times increase as reductions to overtime and the inability to backfill positions for attrition begin to occur this month."

However, Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman, said staffing levels have not changed at BWI.

"Two words for you: spring break," she said, of why there were long lines Friday morning.

Davis said delays could also have been worse Friday because vacation travelers "are not frequent flyers and therefore, may not be as well acquainted with security requirements as business travelers."

Davis would not comment on whether staffing at BWI will change in coming weeks or months.

The airport is upgrading the oldest part of the terminal to include a secure connector beyond security that will allow passengers to move between Concourses A, B and C. The $100 million renovation project will improve waiting areas and add new food and retail concessions.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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