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Ring. Ring. Your Passenger Is Ready.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

To facilitate passenger pickups, the Washington area's three airports opened free, 24-hour cellphone lots a few years ago. (BWI was the first, in 2004.) In these designated areas, drivers can comfortably park for up to an hour, awaiting a call from their visitors that they have landed and are standing curbside. To help make your Thanksgiving a little less stressful this year, we scoped out the lots, driving the routes and noting the signs -- or lack thereof. In addition, we provide tips so you can enjoy some quiet time before your cellphone starts ringing. (Note: Cars in the lot must be attended at all times; no commercial vehicles allowed.) -- Andrea Sachs

BWI

* STATS: Two rows with 50 spots in the Express Parking Lot at Aviation Boulevard and Elm Road.

* FINDING THE LOT: Did some imp steal all of the cellphone lot signs? We saw long-term parking, car rentals, but no . . . oh, there it is, that tiny blue square on a pole. To be sure, you need eagle eyes to locate the small signs directing you to the lot. The first sign appeared as we entered Arrivals, on a column lining the far left lane. From there, we easily followed the other squares, which led us through the terminal area and onto a ramp to Interstate 195. At Exit 1A, we hopped over to the right lane and crossed over to the lot. Later, we learned an easier route: Take I-195 to Exit 1A, then Aviation Boulevard to Elm Road. Now we know.

* PASSENGER PICKUP: So smooth: From the lot, we went right at the light, then followed the main road.

* TIPS: Skip the pileup of cars and cabs meeting passengers at Arrivals and take the express lane on the far left of the pillars. . . . The lot does not have an exit at the far end, so park close to the entrance to avoid doing a seven-point turn. . . . Fear not after dark: Airport police and personnel patrol the area, and the lot is on a main road fairly bright with lights.

* INFO:800-435-9294, http://www.bwiairport.com.

Dulles

* STATS: Multiple rows holding about 100 spots at Rudder Road and Autopilot Drive.

* FINDING THE LOT: We were a tad concerned at first when we passed a sign with the letters "CE" covered up by a black tarp, but were relieved to see a clear "Cell Phone Waiting Area" sign soon after, followed by another. (In case you are still unsure of your whereabouts, banners with sayings like "Cool your jets in the cellphone waiting area" will reassure you.) Taking the right exit dumped us onto Rudder Road, which led us to the fenced-in lot on the left. In addition, if you miss the lot coming, you can access it on the return: Simply drive past the terminal and you will start seeing signs for it.

* PASSENGER PICKUP: The lot displayed a map with the route to the terminal. However, it seemed a bit roundabout, so we forged our own path -- ending up in the daily lot. Trust the map; take Rudder Road and you'll be curbside in no time flat.

* TIPS: Grab some car snacks at the gas station mini-mart near the lot. It also has a restroom. . . . Find out how early, or late, your incoming flight is: A sign on the fence lists the flight information number (703-572-6240). . . . In case of emergency, use the call box; the lot also is adjacent to the airport police station.

* INFO:703-572-2700, http://www.metwashairports.com/dulles.

National

* STATS: Two rows with 34 spots near the end of the "Return to Airport" ramp just beyond Terminal B/C.

* FINDING THE LOT: As soon as we entered the airport, the words "Cell Phone Waiting Area" appeared before us, on a large overhanging sign also directing us to Terminals A, B and C. We followed the signs through Terminal B/C, took a right-hand ramp up to the airport return, went around the bend and hung a left into the lot.

* PASSENGER PICKUP: Exit and you merge onto the central road that leads to the terminals.

* TIPS: The lot is a pretty tight squeeze, especially for the spots near the entrance, which have to contend with incoming cars. For easy departure, park near the exit if possible. . . . Train-spotters can watch Metro come and go, come and go. . . . Stretch your legs on a sliver of wildflower-speckled green space that abuts the lot. On the day we visited, a man and his dog were enjoying a country moment. . . . The lot is right off the busy, well-lighted main route, so you should feel safe sitting in your car.

* INFO:703-417-8000, http://www.metwashairports.com/reagan.

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