“A road warrior”—that’s what Monyka Berrocosa calls herself. The 46-year-old Hampden resident travels once or twice a month, usually by air. An international strategic consultant and investor and publisher of MyCity4HER.com, a Baltimore- based online resource for women, Berrocosa depends on flying to meet her business’ expanding needs. This month, she’ll go to Italy, where she’s looking to close a deal on a piece of property she’s had her eye on.
“Flying is part of growing a successful business—it’s a must,” Berrocosa says.
“[But] people have to have a realistic attitude when they are flying. If your attitude going into it is positive and low-key and understanding that it’s not going to be perfect, you’ll have a better flight experience. Attitude is everything.”
But even an unflappable, glass-half-full traveler like Berrocosa finds navigating the airport’s stifling crowds and getting through security checkpoints a hurdle on Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport’s busiest days.
“That really makes me second-guess if I’m going to go to an international destination out of BWI Marshall,” Berrocosa says. “I don’t understand why BWI Marshall has had this ongoing challenge in that respect.”
It may not have that challenge much longer.
In February, the airport cleared a major hurdle for a large-scale expansion of its international terminal. The state Board of Public Works unanimously approved a $60 million construction contract with Baltimore- based Whiting Turner Contracting Co. to revamp its international wing.
Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI Marshall, said the expansion will consist of a three-level 70,000-square-foot extension to concourse E—the smallest of the airport’s five concourses—to help sustain growing international traffic. The total cost of the project is slated at about $100 million, including the $60 million construction contract.
The project, which should be finished in late 2018, will add six new airline gates—two full-service gates with airline hold rooms and four arrival-only gates. The new gates will be available for travelers by the summer of 2018 and will increase the airport’s number of international gates to 14. There will also be renovations to an existing 20,000 square feet of the international pier, addressing the structure of the facilities and restrooms, among other amenities.
“One of the big purposes of this project is to make sure we have the resources to effectively meet traveling habits,” Dean says.
Travel through BWI Marshall is busier than ever. Last year, a record 25.1 million passengers flew in or out of BWI Marshall, an uptick of 5 percent from 2015, when the previous top total of 23.8 million was set. More than 1.2 million passengers flew nonstop to and from BWI Marshall on international flights in 2016, marking the second consecutive year the airport exceeded 1 million international passengers. Sparked in part by that surge in international traffic, BWI Marshall set 18 straight monthly passenger records through the end of 2016.
From an economic standpoint, officials at the Maryland Department of Commerce said the airport expansion has the potential to pay “enormous dividends.”
Rachael Lighty, 34, of Federal Hill, is hoping it means on-the-ground improvements as well. Lighty is the executive director of external relations, communications and media relations at Laureate International Universities, a higher education network with more than 70 universities in 25 different countries. BWI Marshall is her go-to place for international flights; she most recently traveled to London and Milan.
Depending on the time of her flights, Lighty says, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pre-checks can take longer to get through than regular security checks, an aspect she hopes will change after the expansion. “I think if a second TSA pre-check was open, it would do a lot to alleviate that issue and keep things moving in a smooth, safe and secure environment.”
Overall, she thinks the project is good for the region. “With so many people coming into and out of there on a regular basis, especially internationally, It’s important the international terminal welcomes people since it’s one of the first things they will see.”
Tourism officials agree.
“Just more people coming into Maryland and loving it is always a wonderful thing, both for people getting to know the state and for economic development,” said Liz Fitzsimmons, managing director of the state tourism office. “Folks who come into the state as visitors—and you never know—they may have a big business they’re looking to move in.”
In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 418,000 overseas travelers visited Maryland, an increase of 33 percent from 2014, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce. Those visitors spent an estimated $482 million.
Fitzsimmons said her office is collaborating with its international marketing partners, Capital Region USA (CRUSA), to host this year’s U.S. Travel Association’s IPW convention, the largest global gathering of travel-industry buyers and sellers, in Washington, D.C. At the event, she hopes to entice many of the 1,300-plus buyers into signing contracts for hotel accommodations when they fly into town for business.
In addition, Fitzsimmons plans to work with county tourism offices in the state throughout the year to come up with media and sales initiatives aimed at the airport’s continued commercial ascension.
“The extension of BWI Marshall is a great capital project,” Fitzsimmons says. “[BWI Marshall], with its ‘easy to get to and easy to get out of’ convenience, just makes it an amazing asset to Maryland’s marketing efforts and our economic development efforts.”
International travel at BWI Marshall increased by 135 percent between 2010 and 2015. Two contributing factors to the uptick were that Southwest Airlines, BWI Marshall’s largest carrier, started flying internationally in 2014, and Iceland-based Wow Air started service out of BWI Marshall in 2015.
Since then, BWI Marshall spent $125 million on a project that added 135,000 square feet and connected concourse E with domestic concourse D. That remodeling, which will be completed in the spring, has already brought the airport two new gates for international carriers, an eight-lane security checkpoint, new food and retail concessions, a children’s play area, an outdoor patio space with airfield views, and a gallery of local art.
And last August, British Airways, a longtime international staple of the airport, made BWI Marshall the fourth U.S. market to offer service to London Heathrow on a British Airways Boeing 787-8.
That’s an upgrade that Lori Nicolle, 55, of Baltimore, and her husband, David Buckley Good, 64, have taken full advantage of, as they travel to Europe through London every year.
Buckley Good, an artist at the Schuler School for Fine Arts, uses his time in London to get inspiration for his work, while Nicolle goes along to relax and unwind. But getting to London from BWI Marshall has sometimes proven difficult for the pair. They both hope the new expansion will prevent them from having to go out of their way.
“It’s called BWI Marshall, but it would really be better if it was more of an actual international airport,” Nicolle says. “The few times I’ve had to fly to Philadelphia Airport or John F. Kennedy International Airport, I’ve hated it.”
“Basically, we’re just hopeful that anything being done will make flying out of BWI Marshall easier,” Buckley Good said. “If they’re going to be spending all this money for the improvements, we would like to see the services currently offered now expanded upon.”
BWI Marshall spokesman John Dean thinks customers will be pleased with the changes. “The future,” he says, “remains very bright for international service.”