Creatures are stirring at BWI as mice move inside for winter

Apparently it's not just humans who enjoy BWI Marshall Airport's "easy come, easy go" atmosphere.

Mice, enticed by indoor warmth and crumbs from strangers, have made themselves at home in the cavernous interior of the region's busiest airport.

Last Friday evening, passengers waiting for a Southwest flight at Gate 5 in Concourse B watched as mice foraged for dinner.

"It was more than one. There was one by the window and one in the middle of the room. People were startled, horrified. Some jumped out of their seats, some literally said, 'Eek,' " said Pete Wright, an author and Virginia lawyer. "The lady sitting next to me jerked up and raised her feet off the floor. She was wearing sandals, and a mouse had run into or over her foot."

As Anne Arundel County health officials investigate a passenger's Dec. 4 complaint about about mice running around in Concourse D, airport officials said they regret the close encounters and are redoubling efforts to combat the mouse population.

Keeping BWI mouse-free is a difficult battle, said Jonathan Dean, the airport spokesman. The nearly 2 million-square-foot terminal is surrounded by 3,600 acres of grassland and woods. Since summer, the side of the terminal facing the runways has been open during a $100 million construction project to improve security and passenger access.

"Major construction has temporarily created access points. That location is very close to the construction site," said Dean of the spot where Wright and others saw mice.

A pest control company has set hundreds of traps inside walls and vents and in back corridors, Dean said. It also has traps outside the terminal near trash compactors and access points.

Home Paramount Pest Control Co. is responsible for both BWI and Martin State airports. The three-year, $324,829 contract began in October 2011. A company customer service representative said no one in the commercial division was available to discuss the situation.

"We have a vigorous, joint effort with our tenants," Dean said. "BWI is fully committed to pest control. This is a major priority."

Elin Jones, a spokeswoman for the county health department, said the agency is questioning employees of the 20 shops and food service establishments along Concourse D, the airport's largest pier, which serves Delta, Jet Blue, US Airways and United. The department also is working with airport officials on an eradication plan, she said. The case could be resolved before the end of the year.

A review of a year's worth of Anne Arundel County health inspection reports for restaurants and convenience shops turned up no mouse-related violations.

Jones said passengers can file online complaints with the county health department.

Wright, who travels about half the year representing children with special educational needs, dashed off an email to 15 airport and Anne Arundel County officials when he got home Friday. "I always tell people, 'If it's not in writing, it didn't happen,' " he said.

It's not the first time mice have had a coming-out party at BWI. Nor is it unusual for airports around the country to have a terminal mouse problem.

A YouTube video shot in 2010 shows mice in a BWI hallway. A July video is headlined: "Rats are out of control at BWI airport!" For the record, the critters in question were mice, seen scrambling under a lounge seat occupied by a sleeping passenger.

On Halloween, W. Jarrett Campbell, a marketing manager for a North Carolina industrial automation company, tweeted: "Eek! There is a serious mice infestation in Concourse B at BWI airport!"

(There are a lot of exclamation points in postings about airport mice!)

"I travel for a living, and I've been through many airports around the world. ... I was surprised to see mice in an airport lounge," Campbell said in a phone interview. "It wasn't the end of the world, and I won't stop flying through BWI, but it was unpleasant."

According to online accounts, rodents have been sighted at Boston's Logan airport, Reagan National in Arlington, Va., and LaGuardia in New York City. A 2008 "exclusive" investigation by WGN in Chicago reported that popcorn-wielding children — and apparently a news crew armed with cookies — were feeding a burgeoning mouse population at O'Hare International Airport.

"We warn you some of the video may be uncomfortable to some viewers," warned the WGN reporter and rodent wrangler.

Both Wright and Campbell have BWI flights coming up and said they will be on the lookout for mice.

"I'll just go on over to that gate and start some small talk with some gate attendant," said Wright, chuckling. "If it isn't better, I know how to get attention."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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