BWI airport is named for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. But that’s not the interesting part of its name. Baltimore/Washington Airport used to have a different airport code altogether.
Airports take on new names for a variety of reasons. Fifteen years ago Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport was renamed Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The city has even spent money trying to get people to call it Hartsfield-Jackson.
Since I moved to Washington DC twenty two years ago I still call the area’s close-in airport “National” and not “Reagan.” We need to stop naming airports for politicians, but my reason for this isn’t political. You can tell when someone moved to the DC area based on what they call the airport. If it was National when they got there they still usually call it National.
BWI airport was once known as Friendship International airport and its airport code was a logical BAL for Baltimore. Before Washington Dulles opened to the public in 1962, jets that were too large for close-in National airport went to Baltimore. Baltimore used to be the large jet airport for the DC area.
Credit: BWI Airport
Once it became prudent for the airport to market itself as an alternative for travel to the Washington region they sought to become Baltimore Washington International airport or BWI. However BWI was already taken by the airport in Bewani, Papua New Guinea.
When Air Niugini wanted to fly to Hawaii the US government demanded the airport code in exchange for the route authority. And that’s how BAL got to start using BWI in 1973. Air Niugini no longer offers Honolulu service, while Bewani Airport – 608 miles Northwest of Port Moresby – remains BWP.
The federal government extracted the letters BWI for Baltimore’s airport from the government of Papua New Guinea. That’s a story not many people – even regulars at BWI airport – know.