Passengers at Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International airports can now see major changes as a result of more than $5 billion in improvements inside and out, from new gates and baggage screening lanes to expanded and more efficient parking and through lanes.

BWI

BWI, officially Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, now has a daily garage with more than 8,000 spaces; a single place to pick up rental cars from various companies; and climate-controlled skywalks connecting the airport terminal with the hourly garage.

The recently opened Concourse A/B complex is home to BWI's largest carrier, Southwest. It brings the airport's total gates to 26, in addition to providing a larger, more efficient baggage claim area and ticket counter. Also in Concourse A/B, once passengers are through security, the wait for a plane is more interesting at the BWI Airmall, with several new restaurants and retail stores both local and national, including Phillips Seafood, Charlie Chang's, California Tortilla, jeweler Fire & Ice and men's clothier Jos. A. Bank.

A new food court is under construction in the main terminal, with completion scheduled for spring. In the meantime, the BWI Observation Gallery and children's play between concourses B and C are closed.

Also continuing for another year is the expansion of roads in and out of the airport. Jonathan Dean, communications manager for the Maryland Aviation Administration, recommends that customers avoid the road work by using the Hourly Garage next to the airport to drop off or pick up passengers. Motorists can also avoid circling the terminal while awaiting arrivals by using the BWI cell phone lot.

Dulles

In August, Dulles opened its new Z gates, a permanent concourse attached to the Main Terminal that currently houses US Airways. Also in 2005, renovation was completed on the original terminal ticket counters, and baggage claim facilities were upgraded.

Next up, in October, construction will be complete on a new air traffic control tower, which is expected to begin operating in 2006 after the Federal Aviation Administration installs the necessary equipment, according to Courtney Prebich, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Of more immediate concern to passengers, construction has begun on a train system that will replace most of the airport's uniquely clunky mobile lounges as the primary people-movers. The train, which will connect the terminal to concourses A, B and C, is scheduled to start running in 2009. A moving walkway that opened in 2004 already provides an alternative to the lounges for passengers heading to concourses A and B.

Other current projects at Dulles include the construction, starting later this year, of 12 more gates at Concourse B. Plans for a fourth runway are in the environmental study phase, with construction scheduled to be completed in 2008.

-- Margaret Roth