An expanded Concourse A, with more food options and restrooms. Recently reopened parking lots and new electric vehicle charging stations. Digital video monitors and airport staff at security checkpoints reminding people to stand 6 feet apart in line.
As passenger traffic rebounds from the pandemic, travelers returning to BWI Marshall Airport for the first time in more than a year will notice plenty of differences since their last trip to the airport.
“If they haven’t traveled in a while, especially since the pandemic kicked in, they’ll see all kinds of measures in place to make sure that they’re engaged in a safe visit,” said Ricky Smith, executive director of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
From COVID-related measures to new offerings, here are a few differences to be aware of as you plan your upcoming flight:
‘Ample parking,’ and more electric-vehicle charging stations
The airport’s two long-term parking lots were both closed for most of last year following a collapse in passenger traffic due to travel restrictions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
One reopened in April, and the other reopened Thursday, in time for Memorial Day weekend, Smith said. Last week saw the most outbound passengers of any week since March 2020, and the airport expects holiday weekend travel volumes to be down about 20-30% from normal, pre-pandemic levels, he said.
“They will find that there’s ample parking,” the executive director said.
BWI and BGE officials this week unveiled four new electric-vehicle charging stations, which can provide up to an 80% charge in 15 minutes, in the airport’s Cell Phone Lot. The utility company is planning to add six more charging stations in the airport’s ride-share lot for Uber, Lyft and other ride-share drivers.
The new charging stations add to the airport’s 10 existing charging stations, which were installed in the Daily Garage and Hourly Garage in 2011.
“This is another example of our work to make Maryland a national leader in electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater.
Enhanced cleaning and other COVID measures
When passengers arrive at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, large overhead video monitors will be there to greet them — and remind to stand 6 feet apart in line.
“It gives them a happy face or not-so-happy face, depending on how well they’re social distancing,” Smith said. “And then we have customer service agents that are walking around the airport and will help passengers improve their social distancing, if necessary.”
Enhanced cleanings and hand sanitizer stations are among other COVID-related measures, he said. Masks are required by federal law inside the airport and aboard planes.
The security screening process “is a little different today than pre-pandemic,” said Andrea R. Mishoe, TSA’s Federal Security Director for BWI, in a statement.
“When they get to the travel document checking podium, they will see our TSA officers wearing masks and gloves,” Mishoe said. “Most will be positioned behind new acrylic barriers to reduce exposure and close contact with passengers. Many TSA officers who are not behind acrylic barriers will be wearing face shields or goggles.”
Hygienic measures will be taken if passengers require a pat-down search or hand swab, or their carry-on luggage needs to be inspected, Mishoe said.
“They will change their gloves between each pat down and they will use a fresh swab if they need to swab your hands or your carry-on items,” she said.
Miss Shirley’s, five new gates in expanded Concourse A
After passing through security, passengers might see the $48 million, 55,000-square-foot Concourse A expansion that had Gov. Larry Hogan touting the bathrooms amid a pair of ribbon cuttings.
A new location of Miss Shirley’s, a Baltimore brunch favorite, headlines the restaurant options in the new concourse, alongside R&R Seafood Bar, which is part of the same restaurant group as Obrycki’s, a former longtime Fells Point crab house now located in Concourse B.
“It’s a deliberate attempt to introduce to our passenger base, especially those that are transferring flights and aren’t necessarily from this area, to give them a taste of Baltimore/Washington,” Smith said.
The expanded concourse added five new gates to accommodate Dallas-based Southwest, with large windows and charging outlets at each seat.
The modernized bathrooms, which Hogan said “set a new bar for airports across the country,” feature roomier stalls with shelves for passengers’ carry-on luggage and hooks for coats and clothes, along with touchless sink faucets, soap and paper towel dispensers.
Lines of people, and more leisure travelers
Passenger volumes dropped drastically during the pandemic — down nearly 93% by the end of March 2020 — but Smith said passengers should not expect BWI to be a ghost town when they return this summer.
“There will be lines at the checkpoints, there’ll be lines that the airline check-in counters, there will be lines at the food units as well as the restrooms,” the airport director said. “It’ll be the same experience that they had prior to the pandemic, and so that might be a little surprising to people.”
With many companies still suspending business travel and allowing employees to work remotely, many of the passengers returning to BWI and other airports around the country are vacationers, Smith said.
What does that mean for other passengers? Longer waits, as families with children and other typically slower-moving, less-experienced passengers ensure everyone gets through the airport and to the gate with all their belongings.
“That inconvenience may be something that you’re not used to if you’re a frequent flyer and, pre-pandemic, you’re used to the flying population being predominantly business as opposed to predominantly leisure,” Smith said.
“We just encourage passengers to be to be patient and a little more tolerant because everyone’s excited to be coming out of this pandemic, vaccinations are spreading across the country, and people are feeling good about where we are and where we’re going.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.