BWI adds luxury travel options in an effort to attract high-fliers

Travis Riner ordered a vodka and soda, grabbed a quick snack and headed to an empty plush banquette in the “Relax Zone” of the Club BWI, a new passenger lounge at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. He plugged in his laptop and used the complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi as he prepared to hop on his conference call while waiting to board a flight to Orlando.

For $40 a day, Riner and other passengers have access to the private lounge and all its amenities — free snacks, cocktails, daily papers and charging stations. For an additional $10, guests of the Club BWI also have access to Roam Fitness, a full-service workout and shower facility, which opened its first location in the country at the airport in January.

These new facilities are among BWI’s growing offerings for a luxury travel experience, along with a slew of craft cocktail bars, elevated dining options and upscale shopping venues. The efforts are an attempt to provide a better travel experience for customers while attracting new passengers from nearby, competing airports in larger cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., according to BWI officials.

The airport, which saw a record 2.3 million passengers in May, is following in the footsteps of larger hubs, like Boston’s Logan International Airport, with its numerous fine-food offerings from James Beard Award-winning chef Todd English; San Francisco International Airport, which hosts a science, art and culture museum along with Gucci, Burberry and Swarovski stores; and Los Angeles International Airport, which recently opened a “celebrity terminal” with a private TSA screening lounge, BMW sedan shuttle service, private bathrooms and daybeds.

BWI is gunning for "the ultimate customer experience," said Annette Fisher, deputy chief of marketing and air service development for the Maryland Aviation Administration, which oversees the airport. "It's about having everything at your fingertips. It's a one-stop shop. We have nonstop flights, luxurious accommodations. It's easy come and easy go."

In the past five years, Benet J. Wilson, a freelance aviation journalist and senior editor of Airport Business magazine, has noticed a marked difference in the upscale offerings at the airport.

"BWI Marshall has added a number of benefits in its terminals to improve the passenger experience and put it on par with larger airports across the country," said the Towson-based Wilson.

Take a recent Friday, for example.

Columbia resident Kevin Beaver made fast work of his buttery lobster roll at R&R Seafood Bar, a restaurant from the owners of the storied Obrycki's crab house. A few feet away, lining the moving walkway, passersby admired a series of hulking paintings by Maryland-based artists. And just around the corner, flight attendant David Garcia prepared to get in a quick workout at Roam Fitness.

“They have upped things over the last two to three years,” said Beaver, who was headed to Chicago for business and flies about three times a month.

“For a smaller airport, it compares highly — especially with its micro-beer offerings,” Beaver said as he finished off his 20-once Stella Artois beer. “It was delicious.”

The Club BWI

Located in Concourse D near Gate 10.

Unlike many airline lounges, available only as part of loyalty programs, the Club BWI is open to all passengers.

Some might scoff at the thought of paying $40 for one-day access to the lounge, which is 2,200 square feet and can accommodate 50 people. But its users say it’s worth it.

“It’s one of the better ones I use,” said Chaitanya Nandipati, who was heading to San Diego after a business trip in Baltimore. He noted the size of the space, broad food offerings and comfortable atmosphere as draws. In the hour before his flight departed, Nandipati used the hi-speed Wi-Fi and noshed on pasta salad and humus while resting in the brightly lit, futuristic-looking space, stylized with sleek wooden floors and comfy seating.

Julian Tchernev, lounge manager for the Club BWI, said more than 8,000 customers have visited since it opened in May.

“People absolutely love it. I’m actually very surprised to see it,” he said, explaining that he used to manage another lounge at the airport that did not get the same response. “When I make the comparison, the new space is so much more for the customers. It’s much more private and separated. The service is great.”

“I do love the ability to work out and shower at the airport,” he said. “I’d love to see them offer more locations throughout the country.”

Garcia came to Roam Fitness that day to run on the treadmill, use the free weights and shower before his shift started in two hours.

“We’re got a lot of luxuries at this airport,” he said.

Regan said about 700 people have visited the health club since it opened. A majority of customers are business people and passengers whose flights have been delayed.

Prices range from $25 for a day pass to $350 for an annual membership. In the future, day passes will be usable at other locations — once they open.

Art gallery

Located in the D/E connector.

Jennifer Lisik, a Germantown resident who was heading to Milwaukee, stopped on her way to her gate in Concourse D to examine several massive paintings depicting sailing and other scenes from the Chesapeake Bay.

“I really liked the ship photo,” she said. “I’m a big fan of ocean scenes.”

The installation, which was unveiled in November, is composed of pieces from 13 artists from the region. The pieces will be rotated every quarter, according to Annette Fisher of the Maryland Aviation Administration.

Lisik said she was surprised by the quality of the art installation at the airport.

“It’s nice to have art in general at airports,” she said. “It’s nice to expose people as they are meandering through the airport.”

Roam Fitness

Located in the new connector between concourses D and E.

Roam Fitness has made a considerable splash since opening its first U.S. location at BWI in January, making appearances on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” and “NBC Nightly News,” among other media outlets.

From its stretching area and workout equipment, which features cardio machines and free weights, to its private showers and partnership with Lululemon — the facility’s exclusive workout gear maker — Roam Fitness has thought of almost everything.The health club steams clothes, vacuum seals sweaty workout clothes for travel, offers individual storage lockers with charging stations for portable devices and provides grooming products.

“Customers don’t have to bring anything,” said Debra Regan, the general manager of the BWI location. “We have it all.”

David Garcia, a Lancaster, Pa., resident who works as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, exercises at the BWI location twice a week.

R&R Seafood Bar

Located in the D/E connector.

The 400-square-foot R&R Seafood Bar has a stylized appearance with its white, black and gray decor and white marble bar featuring dozens of call and top-shelf bottles.

The menu is meant to stand out, too.

“It’s not your standard bar food,” said Rob Cernak, who owns the seafood bar with his two sisters, Cindy and Cheri. R&R stands for their parents Rose and Richard. “Everything is made with fresh crab meat.”

The eatery serves Obrycki's famous crab cakes; a signature drink called a crabby Mary, made with Absolut Peppar vodka in a glass rimmed with Obrycki's spicy seafood seasoning and topped with a fresh crab claw and vegetables; and a Baltimore club, which is a crab cake, bacon and shrimp salad atop toasted bread. In addition, R&R Seafood Bar offers a raw bar with a variety of fresh oysters, mussels and shrimp.

Columbia resident Kevin Beaver enjoyed what he ordered.

“So far so good,” he said after he took a bite of the sweet lobster meat used for his lobster roll.

Cernak and his sisters have had a presence at the airport for the past 11 years. They also operate Obrycki’s Restaurant & Bar in Concourse B. The seafood bar concept has been open since June.

“It’s been good for us and good for business,” he said. “We’ve had very positive feedback. The Obrycki’s name is pretty well known. Travelers have heard of us.”

Brix & Vine Wine Bar

Located in Concourse D.

The upscale Brix & Vine Wine Bar serves an assortment of wines throughout the world. Its food offerings — from tender short ribs plated atop mashed potatoes and perfectly cooked asparagus to crab-crusted salmon — are equally impressive.

The space, which is a mix of high-tables and four-tops in deep mahogany, also features the expected flat-screen televisions so that you can watch your favorite news station or sporting event while enjoying a wine tasting or elaborate charcuterie plate.

The restaurant also features Prompt Service devices at each table, which allow customers to make or cancel requests from their seats.

Britney Lewis, a Washington, D.C. resident, noshed on a crabby grilled cheese and side salad. Lewis and her colleague, Sarah Smith, had been in the airport for five hours because of a delayed flight. It was their second time eating at the restaurant during their wait.

“It’s nice to have a nicer meal,” Lewis said.

Sky Azure

Located in the Observation Gallery adjacent to the new B/C security checkpoint.

The sleek, rounded bar and cocktail lounge at Sky Azure offers a bevy of international wines, craft beers, handcrafted cocktails and seasonal small plates.

The space, which is mostly metallic silver with indigo accents, resembles something out of a science fiction movie. And its craft cocktails rival those a food blogger might post.

"It's a hidden gem," said Antoine Lawrence, the airport operations manager for Aero Service Group, which owns and operates Sky Azure. "Everybody that comes up here loves it."

Sky Azure is also one of the few upscale options located before the security screening areas, which means that non-ticket holders can visit.

Christina Fermin, who was returning home to the Dominican Republic after vacationing in Baltimore, was passing the time before her flight by drinking a Hazel's nut house, a hot cocktail comprised of Frangelico, Skyy Vanilla vodka and hazelnut coffee.

"It was delicious," she said.

Fermin said she loved the location of the bar. "It has great views of the airport."

Fermin said that she was impressed with the overall offerings at BWI.

"I like it because it's small and cozy," she said. "But they have nice places like this. It's good that they have a better food selection than pizza and Dunkin Donuts."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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