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Travelers can ease wait at BWI by going online

The Baltimore Sun

Travelers can get lunch, a massage and a souvenir while they wait for their flights from BWI. And now they also can get their e-mail.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport said yesterday that it has joined most other major airports in offering wireless Internet service.

The airport began ramping up the service in November, and Wi-Fi, as it's known, is now available in all the concession and gate areas.

Areas outside of security zones, including the ticketing and baggage areas, will be online by the end of the month. Fees are $7.95 daily and $21.95 a month.

It's a service that passengers increasingly are demanding, as security requirements in recent years have forced travelers to arrive earlier for flights. They have more time on their hands for eating, shopping and surfing the Web, and airport managers have been working to accommodate them.

BWI, just finishing a major construction and renovation program, only recently won approval from the state to contract the Wi-Fi job.

Travelers, particularly those on business trips, said they were happy to find the service in Baltimore so they could connect their laptops with the Internet.

"On a day like today, when the weather is bad and my flight is delayed an hour and a half, I really want to get on the Internet," said Ryan O'Desay, an accountant waiting to go home to Chicago. "Whatever I do now, I don't have to do tonight. ... Really, I kind of expect it at major airports now."

The nation's busiest airports offer Wi-Fi, including those in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. Most charge a daily fee of $6.95 to $9.99 for access, according to Airport Revenue News, a trade publication. A few offer the service for free. They include airports in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., and Philadelphia.

More than 150 U.S. airports of all sizes are listed on wififreespot- .com, which tracks hot spots, or places where wireless Internet service is available. It also shows that Wi-Fi is offered in airports in at least 40 other countries.

Installations began in 2000 in airports including Seattle, Dallas and Austin, Texas, according to Airports Council International, a trade group. By 2005, most major U.S. airports began offering some service.

Some airlines offer the service for free at some of their gates, such as AirTran Airways and Jet- Blue Airways.

Portland International in Oregon began offering free service airport-wide to entice business travelers, the airports council said.

At BWI, travelers said the service can help them get some work done. "I really like to have it," said Steve Bray, a regional business manager for Smiths Medical in Indianapolis. "Eight dollars is pretty much the going rate, and I don't mind paying it."

Bray said it generally is easy to follow airport instructions to log on, though he initially had some trouble yesterday at BWI.

Travelers said service in general is spotty at times in some airports. But providers say technology is improving.

BWI's food and retail concessionaire, BAA Maryland, was put in charge of installing the service. It contracted with Concourse Communications Group LLC, which provides services in several other airports. BAA will use the fees to cover installation and operating costs.

"People had been asking about it," said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman. "The modern traveler is sophisticated and looking to be productive on the road. Many expect the service."

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