The Federal Aviation Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation have struck a deal, that makes it technically possible for your luggage to wind up in Bewani, Papua New Guinea, while you arrive at friendly Baltimore-Washington International Airport, 10,000 miles away.
It is all part of Baltimore-Washington's efforts to become known as a regional airport, one serving the nation's capital and not just the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Area, as Baltimore journalist John Frazier Goodspeed once loveingly referred to his town.
Karl Sattler, aviation administrator for the state of Maryland, explains: "The airlines advertise us as a Washington airport, and recognize it. But the customer at the counter sees the luggage tag that says 'BAL.' Then the customer says, 'I'm going to Washington, not Baltimore,' and the little girl gets flustered. If the tag says 'BWI' there will be no confusion."
Maryland officials have been trying for years to get its official three-letter airport designation changed from BAL to BWI. They lobbied one FAA administrator after another, without success.
Time brings change, however, and when Longhorne Bond took over as new FAA administrator last year, he was set upon by Robert Aaronson, Sattler's predecessor.
Aaronson did a great selling job, and not just for his airport. Bond signed the documents that, on March 23, officially changed BAL to BWI. Then he hired Aaronson, who is now the FAA's assistant administrator for airport programs. Is there a relationship?
"Naw," Bond said jocularly. "Bob's price was less than that."
So much for the official paperwork. The airlines have not made the change. It will cost them $1 million to reprogram all those computers at ticket counters and reprint all those luggage tags, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association (ATA) said. ATA is the official airline lobby.
"TWA has not changed and TWA has no plans to change," a spokeswoman at TWA said precisely.
"We'd rather not," said Eastern.
Bond received an official letter from the International Air Transport Association, which worries among other things about three-letter codes worldwide. The letter chided Bond for taking such precipitant action without checking.
The letter also said, "The location identifier BWI is already assigned by IATA to Bewani, Papua New Guinea, which is served by an IATA member airline."
Bond said he was not worried about the letter.
Sattler said he was not worried about lost luggage. "The airline serving Bewani goes in there only twice a week. It's just not a problem," he said.
Sattler also said the airlines would come around. "North-Central is going to change. The others will move into it. They can change. They changed Idlewild to JFK overnight. There are just a lot of straw men coming out of the woodwork."