Preparing for airport getaways
Metro riders were reporting in Twitter messages this morning that the transit system and the streets around stations seemed less crowded. Perhaps it's a sign the holiday exit already has begun, though I'd watch for extra congestion throughout today and Thursday around the malls. The Capital Weather Gang's forecast shows good getaway weather through Christmas Eve, though the forecast for the weekend remains unsettled.
Some travelers have been asking for advice about airport parking, particularly at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall. BWI doesn't have the same easy online display of parking availability used at Reagan National and at Dulles International, but then, BWI has more parking spaces.
Thursday is likely to be the most crowded day at airports for Christmas travel.
I've found the best way to monitor the parking scene at BWI is to look at the airport's Twitter feed. At various times over the past few days, you would have seen messages like this: "Current conditions at BWI Marshall airport are normal with no significant delays. All parking areas and roadways are open."
If you were looking at the peak of the Thanksgiving getaway, you might have seen this message: "All long-term and daily parking lots are full, traffic is being redirected to the BWI Rail Station Garage for extended stays." Or this one: "All long-term and daily parking lots are full. The BWI hourly garage is open at a reduced rate of $12 a day. Conditions at BWI are normal."
Although Thursday might be the most difficult parking day for this month's holidays, it's unlikely to match the Thanksgiving peak.
More typical for a holiday period would be this message: "Some parking areas are temporarily unavailable. Please check parking signs for available parking areas."
Drivers approaching the airport will see electronic signs with alerts about the status of the various long- and short-term parking areas. In addition, you can tune your car radio to 1040 AM near the airport. Alerts about parking also will be posted on the BWI home page.
If you're flying and will be away for just a few days, consider using the daily garage, rather than the long-term lots. The daily garage is $12 per day, vs. $8 at the long-term areas. But if a winter storm rolls through while you're away, both you and your car will appreciate the shelter of the garage. It also makes waiting for the shuttle bus a lot less chilling.
Our most difficult airport for holiday parking has long been Reagan National, but it also supplies the best real-time information about parking. On the airport Web site, travelers can find out exactly how many spaces are available at the daily and hourly garages and in the economy lot. The airport also maintains a parking hot line at 703-417-PARK (7275).
Use this parking information link for Dulles. There, you'll find a status report on the availability of hourly, valet, daily and economy parking, but without the extra guidance of knowing how many parking spaces are left. For phone reports, call 703-572-4500. When you approach the airport, tune the car radio to AM 530.
MARC to BWI
A BWI-bound traveler wrote in with this question: "Can you foresee any delays Thursday morning with the MARC from Union Station to BWI? I know I've read about MARC delays recently but I'm not sure if they're systematic or freak delays, but we have a flight at 9:45 a.m. from BWI and will be traveling from the Barracks Row area. We'll need enough time for security checks and to wait in the holiday lines and I want to make sure MARC is our best option, since we can walk from home to Union Station. The last time we took the B30 we missed our flight by minutes."
First, as I said, there's no way I can tell whether a MARC train is going to break down or get delayed Thursday. But I consulted with Post staffer Mark Berman, who monitors the commute each morning here on the blog. We don't see any pattern to the recent delays that would allow a rider to predict what a given morning will be like. The service disruptions seem to be related to MARC's own equipment or to problems with Amtrak and freight trains on the same line.
With a flight departure at 9:45 a.m., there's not a big margin for error on getting the train from Union Station. It's certainly a good idea to get to the airport with a big enough time cushion to withstand the lines. They always seem to take longer at holiday times, because you have many people traveling who do so only once a year and aren't used to the security procedures.
Looking at the Penn Line schedule, I'd be thinking about the 6:45 a.m. train, and thinking if there's some problem with that, I could catch the 7:12. (There's always the fallback of switching from MARC to Amtrak up to BWI, but there aren't that many Amtrak trains, either, and you'd have to make the switch quite early.)
MARC is pretty good about sending out e-mail alerts anytime there's a problem with a train. You can sign up for the alerts here.
Meanwhile, Metro has not announced any plans to add service to the B30 for Thursday, so you might still find that unsatisfactory if it didn't work for you last time. (I've also heard from travelers who have had good luck with this express bus from Greenbelt Station to BWI.)
For Dulles by bus: Travelers can take the 5A from L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn stations, Another option is to take the Orange Line to West Falls Church, then take the Washington Flyer bus to the airport.
| December 22, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories: Airports, Driving, Getaways, MARC, Metro, Transit | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips
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