The ad starts with a catchy tune: A cartoon character is on his way to the airport. He's caught in a traffic jam. He finally gets to the crowded but unnamed airport -- Is it Washington National? -- and makes his way to the gate just in time to see his plane take off without him.
Switch to a real person proceeding through Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Nice things happen. The passenger is greeted by friendly skycaps, he's treated nicely by a ticket agent at the counter, he will board his plane easily and leisurely. He is clearly a pleased customer. BWI puts a smile on his face.
The jazy 60-second ads on behalf of BWI appeared on all the major television stations in Washington during February and March. "That was designed to break into the Washington mentality -- let them know we're here," says Karl R. Sattler, Maryland's State Aviation Administrator.
It was luck that the TV spots appeared during the key hockey games of the winter Olympics, giving the ad an emormous audience.
But luck stops there. The ads are part of a carefully executed overall plan to turn the old-fashioned and outdated Friendship Airport of six years ago into a totally renovated BWI that might begin attracting airlines and an increasing share of the air travelers to Baltimore -- and Washington.
And the campaign is working. Passenger traffic at BWI during the first quarter of this year set a new record, while the recession has caused a contraction in airline passenger traffic nationwide and a significant drop at Dulles International Airport, BWI's natural rival. And BWI's share of traveling Washingtonians appears to be increasing as well.
"I think the airport now has to move from being more flamboyant -- with the ads and so on -- to come across as well-run, efficient operating entity so that those here will stay and others will want to come in," Satter says. "I think we're well organized to do jsut that."
Celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this week, the BWI of today looks nothing like the Friendship International Airport that occupied the same space. Last fall, a brand-new terminal of "space frame" construction with ten entrances replaced Friendship's old-fashioned enter-through-a-central-lobby terminal.
Built over a five-year period at a cost of $70 million, the new terminal exudes a contemporary look, but incorporates operating features that spell accessibility and efficiency to airlines, passengers and employes.
The 94-foot wide space frame roof, made of tubular steel, is supported by 11 34-foot high glazed-red tile towers, three containing elevators. The 1,400-foot concourse is graced with 30-foot-high window walls and white tile floors, giving the terminal a bright, airy look.
The airport is geared for the future. Without any structural changes, BWI is in a position to accommodate three times the passengers now being served. While BWI served about 3.9 million passengers in 1979, the airport can handle 11.2 million passengers a year through its 27 gates. The projected passenger traffic is between 5.3 and 6 million passengers a year in 1985.
Maryland transportation officials think BWI traffic has been holding its own and growing -- while other airports are declining during the recession -- because of the growing reputation BWI is getting as an easy airport for the passenger and an efficiently operating airport for the airlines.
Because of the layout, it is very easy to get through for the passenger. It also enables the airline to unload the plane of its baggage a very short distance from baggage claim areas. The walking distances are short for employes and passengers. The distance between the ticket counter and the baggage loading belt is short. A last-minute passenger may be able to make the flight at BWI, while the people-movers at Dulles pose difficult problems for a late-comer.
Another strong drawing card is the population of five million that lives in greater Baltimore and Washington. It is something the airport officials stress in their recruiting chats with airline officials.
"The carriers can get Baltimore and Washington for the price of one," says Sattler. BWI was able to entice six new carriers to begin new services there in 1979, including Texas International Airlines with its popular discounted "peanuts" fares and World Airways, with its unrestricted low fares to California and now London. When Piedmont Airlines decided it had to end services at one of the three area airports it was serving, it closed its Dulles operation and kept BWI.
To draw customers from Washington, BWI has gone out of its way to try to make ground transportation easy. Besides the 25 round trips a day a fleet of buses provides from downtown Washington, passengers traveling from Montgomery and Prince George's Counties can use a door-to-door suburban service BWI runs. It combines a taxi from home, connecting with a bus from BWI's mini-limo terminal located near the Capital Beltway at Greenbelt Road and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. A third "kiss and ride" service operates from the mini-terminal, where regularly scheduled coaches can take passengers dropped off by car to BWI.
The Washington ground services are paying off; passenger traffic has been increasing substanitally. Ridership to and from points in Montgomery and PG rose 17 percent last year; ridership between downtown Washington and BWI rose 28 percent. The increased ground traffic is one of the indications BWI officials have that their share of Washington travelers is increasing. At one time, Sattler estimates, Baltimoreans made up 80 percent of BWI's traffic and Washingtonians, 20 percent; now Washingtonians make up 30 or 35 percent of the total, Sattler thinks.
BWI will soon become accessible by rail as well. On Oct. 23, a new $3 million Amtrak station will open a mile and a half from BWI's terminal, to be served by shuttle bus that will take six minutes. Adjacent to Amtrak's Washington-New York-Boston corridor, it will be served by some Amtrak trains that run from Union Station, perhaps stopping at the New Carrollton station, and Conrail commuters.
"It will be quite an experiment," Sattler says, providing the first intercity air-rail-highway link in the United States. While trains serve many airports in Europe, "Americans are not used to taking trains to the airport."
Besides serving air passengers from Washington, Baltimore and north, the new Amtrak station can serve commuters from Anne Arundel County into Baltimore and Washington, as well as bring in employes who work near BWI. There are about 20,000 jobs in the area now, Sattler says. Besides an estimated 11,000 to 12,000 who work at the adjacent Westinghouse facility, there are about 3,400 jobs at BWI and "an unnamed 4,000 jobs at the unnamed government agency" (National Security Agency) in the area as well as others, he notes.
While Baltimore has not traditionally been what is considered a good travel market, its recent renaissance may change that significantly; its new convention center and its inner harbor restoration are expected to bring in increasing numbers of visitors. "All these things mean more tickets into the airport," Sattler says happily.
Sattler won't be around to see it, through. Administrator since March 1978 and with the state aviation administration since 1972, Sattler will be leaving July 1 to join Henson Aviation, an expanding commuter airline, as executive vice president. "I think I'm just prone to challenge," Sattler says. As for BWI, "the organization runs very well without me now."