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February 7, 2010

A lonely few passengers haunt BWI (updated)

Sun photo/Michael Dresser

The Southwest terminal at BWI Marshall  lies nearly deserted at about 9 a.m. Sunday morning.

Pia Hernandez said she checked her airline's web site and saw that her flight was "on time" before she set out for Baltimore Washington International Airport Sunday morning. It wasn't until she arrived at BWI that she learned no flights were going in or out of the snow-buried airport.

So the Killeen, Texas, resident applied her self to the unpleasant task of calling her boss to say the almost certainly won't be at work Monday morning.

Hernandez was one of a lonely few passengers to be seen Sunday morning at BWI, where the normally bustling Southwest terminal was all but deserted at 9 a.m.  The airport was open as it entered its second full day without commecial flights. State officials said the brunways would reopen at 5 p.m. Sunday and that a few flights might varrive Sunday night. However, departing flights are still not expected to resume until midday Monday, although a few passengers expressed hope they could catch a flight out Sunday night as some airlines held open a slim possibility that service might resume.

Sun photo/Michael Dresser

Pia Hernandez of Killeen, Texas, phones her employer from BWI to say she probably won't be at work Monday morning because no flights were leaving the airport Sunday.



That Sun photo/Michael Dresser

Flight board at Southwest terminal at BWI tells the story Sunday morning.

That hope is likely to be in vain, however, because there were almost not jets at BWI. All but one airliner departed Friday to avoid being covered in snow. Departures won't be able to depart until arrivals arrive.

Airport work crews labored through the day Sunday to clear some 26-28 inches of snow from the runways, taxiways and gate areas. A smattering of airport workers were on duty, including ticket agents and a few Transportation Security Administration officers staffing unused security checkpoints, but a Maryland Transportation Authority police officer said the scene reminded him of Sept. 12, 2001, when no planes were flying in the aftermath of 9/11.

One of the passengers hoping Sunday morning  to get out before Monday was Karl Utz of San Francisco, who has b een stuck at the airport since Friday -- having missed a flight to Chicago because of heavy traffic.

Utz, a Department of Homeland Security employee, said he was able to stretch out and get some sleep on the BWI observation deck and found food at a Subway franchise that remained open.

"I'm not in a hurry so it's not a problem for me. I'm just bored," he said. With TVs turned off,  he's had little to do but walk around the empty terminals.

 "I think I know every inch of this airport," he said.  "I was in the military 22 years, so you learn to adapt."

If he couldn't get a flight out Sunday night, Utz said, he'd be ready to spring for a hotel room.

Paul J. Wiedefeld, Executive Director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, said in a press release that "we must provide a safe operation for airlines and travelers before normal flights can resume.”

BWI officials reported that Southwest Airlines, the largest airline at BWI, cancelled all flights today there and at   Dulles International, Philadelphia International, and Pittsburgh International airports.  The flight board at BWI showed all flights canceled.

Travelers affected by flight cancellations were being encouraged to rebook travel arrangements by telephone or airline websites rather than by going to BWI. With the possibility of an additional 6-12 inches later in the week, officials were urging travelers headed to the airport in coming days to park under cover in one of BWI's two garages -- even if it costs them a few dollars more.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:29 AM |
About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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