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Official: Airport convenience could offset high price

February 21, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Thinking about planning a vacation?

Chances are you can save money if you fly out of airports in Baltimore and Washington rather than flying out of Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Round-trip flights in March to Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Orlando, Fla., from Baltimore and Washington were $90 to $200 cheaper than flights from Hagerstown, according to USAirways.com.

The cost of flying from Hagerstown to San Francisco on March 9 and returning seven days later is $478. Flying from Baltimore to San Francisco on the same dates costs $278, according to USAirways.com.

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While travelers may save money at the larger airports, they may lose out on the conveniences of flying out of a smaller airport, said Greg Larsen, Hagerstown Regional Airport's business development manager.

Hagerstown Regional Airport officials are trying to get the word out that it delivers better service than the major airports.

Larsen said the airport's free parking and convenient location off Interstate 81 may make up for the higher fares.

The airport's Web site, www.flyhagerstown.com, boasts there are "no hassles" when using its service.

Travelers may pay tolls and high parking fees when using the Baltimore and Washington airports, Larsen said.

"There's not that hassle and scramble. We believe it's a simpler process here, an easier process," Larsen said.

"If a traveler is interested, you should try Hagerstown, and we think you will come back to use us again," he said.

Baltimore/Washington International Airport charges a $7-per-day parking fee for travelers who will be gone long-term. Every seventh day of parking is free, according to the airport's Web site.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said if a traveler plans to stay at his or her destination for 10 days or more, they'll spend the money they saved from flying out of Baltimore on parking at that airport.

"Someone that's going to be staying a week or two weeks ... they have to consider the cost of parking down there," Snook said.

BWI officials could not be reached for comment.

Snook also said it takes less time to check in and board a flight at Hagerstown Regional Airport than it does at the major airports. Airline passengers need to be at larger airports two to four hours in advance, he said.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said the drive to Dulles International Airport near Washington takes about 90 minutes, with an additional 20 to 30 minutes for the shuttle ride from the airport's parking to the terminal.

Once inside, the passenger must wait in line to go through screening and then take another shuttle to get to the terminal that he or she is flying out of, Motz said.

Travelers can arrive at Hagerstown Regional Airport and be on their flight in 30 minutes, she said.

Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson said that while it's easy to get to and the parking is free, he doesn't think many residents are interested in using Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"I don't have a lot to say about the airport because a majority of the citizens aren't concerned about it," Munson said.

He said he would choose to fly out of Baltimore or Washington rather than out of Hagerstown. He said he thought it would take less time getting to destinations from the major airports.

About 50,000 passengers fly in and out of Hagerstown Regional Airport a year. That number includes repeat customers and consists mostly of business travelers, Larsen said.

He did not know how many people fly out of the airport on a daily basis, he said. The airport provides passenger flights 365 days a year.

Munson said he doubted 50,000 passengers fly in and out of the airport annually. He said he thought that number was much lower.

Larsen said the lower fares at the major airports are driven by competition. He said several airlines fly out of the larger airports, forcing those airlines to offer competitive prices.

One airline - USAirways - flies out of Hagerstown.

He said travelers may be able to find cheaper fares out of Hagerstown if they book their flights 21 days in advance and the trip includes a Saturday stay.

Larsen said that when Hagerstown Regional Airport's runway is extended, airlines that may be interested in offering services at the airport eventually would have the option of using regional jets. He thinks that may entice more people to use the airport.

The regional jets have a larger capacity than the planes that fly out of Hagerstown now, he said.

The approximately $60 million runway extension is scheduled to be completed in 2007.

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