BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport is moving forward with plans to build a hotel and introduce technology that will allow passengers to check their own bags.
At a briefing of the Anne Arundel County House delegation last week, BWI Executive Director Paul Wiedefeld said the airport was close to finding contractors to build a "true airport hotel." Wiedefeld said a request for proposals for that project will be out in the spring.
Wiedefeld also said BWI's airlines in the "very near future" would be introducing self-bag check systems. As airlines move more toward automating every step of the check-in process, the technology allows travelers to print their own bag tags and drop them off on a belt instead of with an airline employee.
Wiedefeld acknowledged the self-bag check process could lead to fewer airline jobs at BWI. But the baggage check process is expensive for airlines and the airport, he said.
"It's a huge cost issue for airlines, it's a huge space issue for us - an issue we'll be working with in the very near future," Wiedefeld said.
In his presentation to the Anne Arundel delegation, Wiedefeld noted a number of challenges and opportunities for the airport in 2014.
A challenge the airport has faced lately is the lack of a hotel on its grounds.
Four Points by Sheraton BWI Airport closed at the end of last year after a 30-year lease with the Maryland Aviation Administration was not renewed.
But Wiedefeld said plans are underway to build a new hotel near the hourly parking lot at BWI. The location, Wiedefeld said, would allow passengers staying there to walk from the hotel into the Southwest Airlines terminal through the E Concourse.
Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI, said the airport was still in the early stages of the process. But he said BWI is taking preliminary steps to propose and plan an on-airport hotel.
Dean said the self-bag check system would soon be introduced at BWI as part of an "airline industry-wide shift." He said American Airlines, which is already testing self-bag check at several airports, "is close to having it implemented here at BWI."
However, a spokeswoman for American Airlines said BWI is not scheduled to begin self tagging in 2014.
"But we are always re-evaluating so plans are subject to change," said Anne Wiedner, a spokeswoman for the airline.
Del. Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park, expressed concerns during the meeting about airline employees losing their jobs due to the automation of bag checking.
Wiedefeld said that was an issue airlines were working on. He also noted ARINC Inc., a defense contractor with offices in Anne Arundel County, is developing technology for airlines to implement self-bag check systems.
"I know they're employing them over there to figure out how to unemploy the people over at the airport," Vitale said, joking.
Meanwhile, Del. Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, is expected to propose legislation to allow up to 2,500 slot machines at BWI. It would be the fourth-consecutive year Bromwell introduced such legislation.
That bill is not expected to earn the approval of the General Assembly. The proposal still does not have the backing of the airport.
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"BWI Marshall has consistently opposed the introduction of slot machines to the airport," Dean said.