Each year in early January, I "offload" my calendar from the just-ended year. I write down phone numbers I will continue to need. I carry forward tasks I didn't finish. Mostly, I marvel that one human being survived such a pace for 365 days.

As I "did" 1999 the other day, I began to notice a pattern. So I did a thorough count for the entire year. It turned out to be a perfecto.

I left or landed at each of the three Washington area airports an equal number of times in 1999--12 each.

That makes me a neat expert witness for the never-ending water cooler battle: Which D.C. airport is doing the job best? And which is doing it worst?

I give the good-news trophy to Baltimore- Washington International Airport, by a comfortable margin. I consign Reagan Washington National Airport to third place, by the same margin. Dulles International wallows in the middle.

These towering conclusions are not based on the usual airline complaints. I have suffered through late and canceled flights at all three airports. I've had trouble getting a Red Cap at all three. I have eaten meals at all three for which I ought to have had my head examined--and nearly did have my stomach examined.

I have driven to all three and taken public transit to all three--not a whole lot to choose there. I have flown into and out of all three at various times of day, so this ranking doesn't tilt because of morning or evening "crush hours." I have lost luggage at all three, so I can't claim that one set of baggage-heavers was trying harder or less hard than any of the others.

No, dear friends, it's a matter of space.

When you try to walk down a corridor at Reagan National, you often can't--because the corridor's not wide enough to escape the human flotsam and jetsam heading toward you.

This is true near the ticketing counters on the upper level, and especially on the walkways that lead to the gates. I don't consider it fun to be mowed down by a grandma who has just arrived from Fort Myers. But one of that ilk gave my shins a good gash the other day with a suitcase mounted on wheels.

She apologized politely and said she would have avoided me if she could have.

Exactly.

Dulles may be even worse. Whoever designed that new midfield terminal must have had mice in mind.

Whenever more than 20 people are lined up at a gate for a flight, they spill into the main walkway. One Friday night, at a United Airlines gate, it was almost like the New York subway. Almost as friendly, too.

National at least has an excuse. It is bordered by water on three sides. The architects of the new terminal were hemmed in from the moment they sat at their drawing boards.

But the infield at Dulles is still largely empty. Any new terminal could have been twice as large. Surely someone could have figured out that dozens of people would use the midfield terminal--sometimes all at once!

Dulles has thus recommitted its original sin. It has built an airport terminal that was obsolete as soon as anyone started to use it.

BWI corridors are at least five feet wider than those at IAD and DCA. No grandmas. No gashes. No feeling like a rat in a cage.

The other day, while clomping toward my departure gate at BWI, I found myself in between two of those golf carts that airlines use to ferry old and infirm passengers to gates. The two carts passed me, one on either side, with room to spare. At National or Dulles, we would have done an Alphonse-and- Gaston gavotte.

Yes, BWI is too far for Northern Virginians to use easily. Yes, its parking fills up very quickly--and stays filled. Yes, amenities could use help--especially the restaurants. Absolutely, public transportation should go directly to the front door from the D.C. area, instead of just from Baltimore.

But the fares out of BWI are lower than most fares out of either of the other airports. The car rental counters are better located and swifter. The departure lounges offer more comfortable seats (and in many cases, more of them). The puddle-jumper commuter flights are pushed to the edges of the airport, instead of occupying prime space at the front.

I'm not going to say give me BWI or give me death. But whenever I have a choice, it's no choice.

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

Just eight days to go until our annual fund- raising campaign on behalf of Children's is in the history books. Will you help us write a record chapter in 1999-2000? Many thanks.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Jan. 11: $534,269.27.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.