Reagan and Dulles airports add more restaurants, shops as international travel grows


Workers install a corridor to connect to an isolated concourse at BWI airport as part of a renovation. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)

Area airports are seeing no slow down in growth of international travel, as more foreign-based carriers make their way to the Washington region.

To keep up with growing international demand, officials at the region’s three major airports say they are adding restaurants and retail shops, as well as revamping concourses and waiting areas in hopes of attracting more travelers and boosting revenue.

“International travelers arrive at the airport with a lot of time before their flight,” said Steve Baker, vice president of business administration at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees both Dulles International and Reagan National airports. “Our job is to try to engage them so they consider spending some time and money in our stores before they get on their plane.”

In the past year, Dubai-based Emirates, AeroMexico, Toronto-based Porter Airlines and United Arab Emirates-based Etihad Airways have begun flying into Dulles International Airport.

At Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, it’s a similar story: Germany’s Condor Airlines set up shop in July, and AirTran has plans to begin flying to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic beginning this April.

Airports are taking note.

“Now we’re looking at how do we enhance the traveler experience here,” said Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI. “We’re developing a plan to update our concepts and figure out how to serve more people.”

In addition to adding new restaurants such as Chipotle, Pinkberry and Landsdowne-based BGR: The Burger Joint, BWI is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation that includes the creation of a new security checkpoint, the widening of two of its three concourses and repaving of its runway.

“We are expanding our concessions very aggressively,” said Paul Wiedefeld, the airport’s executive director. “As long as the economy continues on the path that it’s on, I think we’ll be good.”

Slower growth overall

It has been a rough few years for many of the country’s airports, which generate much of their revenue from hangar leases and fuel sales.

“The days of go-go growth of airlines are over,” said Michael Boyd, chairman of Boyd Group International, an aviation firm based in Evergreen, Colo. “Domestically, we’re going to see less passenger traffic in 2013 than in 2012.”

The number of passengers traveling through BWI and National increased in 2011, the last year for which numbers have been reported. Similar gains are expected for 2012 and 2013. At Dulles, overall passenger numbers fell 1.6 percent, but international passengers rose 1.6 percent.

But at Dulles and National, where revenue from concessions dropped 5 percent between 2010 and 2011, to $92.4 million from $97.3 million, officials are looking for ways to keep customers entertained — and comfortable — before they board their flights. The airports are in the process of adding eateries and shops, and are also rethinking traditional waiting areas.

“In addition to seating passengers, we want opportunities for people to plug in their laptops and be able to sit down and have a meal,” Baker said.

There are other plans in the works, too: At National, where there is little retail space, officials are considering moving airline operations to a different floor to accommodate more shops.

“There’s this perception that airports don’t really compete, but we do compete with each other for the satisfaction of passengers,” Baker said. “When someone is deciding whether they want to fly through Dulles or Chicago, they’re thinking, ‘What’s my experience going to be on the layover? Will there be something good to eat? Will I be able to pick up that tie I need or that scarf I forgot?’”

New routes in 2013

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

Southwest Airlines: This April, the carrier will begin offering nonstop flights to Charlotte, N.C.; Rochester, N.Y.; Flint, Mich.; and Portland, Maine. In June, it will begin two daily flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

AirTran: Daily flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic are slated to begin April 14.

Jet Blue: Beginning April 22, 2013, JetBlue Airways will increase service between BWI and Boston Logan to six flights a day.

Dulles International Airport

Etihad Airways: Beginning in March, the carrier will offer nonstop flights to Abu Dhabi.

United: The carrier will begin weekly flights to Guatemala City and San Jose, Costa Rica in April. It will also add flights to Vancouver, Fayetteville, N.C., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Iceland Air: Beginning this month, the airline is flying nonstop to Reykjavik four times a week.

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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