Baltimore/Washington Int’l Boosts Morale With Onsite Gym, Healthy Food Options & More

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

For more than 20 years, travelers, airport employees and the general public have enjoyed the 12.5-mile Hiker-Biker Trail that loops around the outside of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). It even includes bike rentals for just $13 per day and passes through a park with a playground.

“It’s being used at a higher rate today than when we first opened it,” says Ricky Smith, the airport’s chief executive officer. “As with the rest of the country, people here are becoming progressively more health- and fitness-conscious. Our passengers are just a microcosm of the larger society. They are looking for ways to engage in healthy activities when they have extra time at the airport.” 

In addition to its outdoor trail, BWI provides two indoor walking paths, an onsite gym and notably healthy food/beverage options. In fact, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine named BWI the Healthiest U.S. Airport in 2014. Although the award focused on benefits for passengers, Smith notes that the various offerings also create a healthier, happier workplace for employees. 


Project: Health & Fitness Amenities

Location: Baltimore/Washington Int’l Thurgood Marshall Airport

Concessions Developer: Fraport (formerly Airmall)

Outdoor Feature: 12.5-mile Hiker-Biker Trail

Indoor Options: ROAM Fitness Center; 2 American Heart Association Walking Paths, each 1K long

Gym User Fees: $25 for day pass, $100 per month, $350 per year; special staff discounts & corporate rates  

Internal Achievement: 95% of food/beverage vendors offer healthy options such as protein smoothies, gluten-free pizza, turkey or vegan burgers, etc.  

National Accolade: Healthiest U.S. Airport in 2014—Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine

Multiple Workout Options

The airport’s two indoor walking trails are designated as American Heart Association Walking Paths. Each single-kilometer loop takes most users about 20 minutes to complete. One route is located on the upper level of the terminal’s public side; the other is on secure side of concourses A and B. Signs on the walls mark the paths, and maps are available at the airport
information desk. 

“It’s not unusual to see four or five Southwest Airlines employees walking up and down the concourse in a brisk way, getting in a walk,” Smith reports.

Building on the popularity of its walking paths, BWI added an in-airport workout facility last February. ROAM Fitness offers passengers a new way to maintain their fitness routine while traveling and provides a popular employee perk. The 1,175-square-foot gym at BWI is the company’s first location and has been a long time in the making. Ty Manegold, co-founder and president of ROAM, explains that the team formed four years ago with a vision to bring its new fitness option to airports around the world.

With the gym at BWI up and running, the company hopes to have 20 U.S. locations within five years. Its next targets are San Francisco International, Denver International and John F. Kennedy International. Overseas, Dublin Airport is at the top of its list. Plans to develop international locations focus on targeting airports with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Pre-Clearance Checkpoints.

ROAM designed its fee structure for wide appeal: one- to five-day passes for transient travelers and month-long or yearly memberships for frequent flyers and employees who are at the airport on a more regular basis. All users receive full access to the workout facility (cardio equipment, free weights, medicine and stability balls, yoga props, etc.) and a 15-minute shower with towel service. Annual members can reserve shower time 24 hours in advance. Bathrooms are outfitted with automated fixtures, flight information displays, Amazon Alexa dots and high-end toiletries such as Malin + Goetz bath products. 

Manegold explains that the team tried to think of any possible travel situation and prepare for it. Visitors can use complimentary Brooks running shoes and lululemon clothing; Wi-Fi provides easy access to their usual workout music or treadmill entertainment; and packaged health food and beverages provide pre-workout fuel and recovery nutrition. Visitors who bring their own workout clothes can even shrink-wrap them before leaving at no charge. 

“Now the odors don’t permeate the rest of your luggage, and we have free single-use Defunkify laundry detergent packets as well,” he says. “We want this to be as seamless as possible.”

Airport Sherpa, BWI’s internal delivery service, helps eliminate a common obstacle for passengers without enough time to eat and exercise. Now, they can do both: Work out for 30 minutes at ROAM, order a salad and protein shake online, jump into shower and meet the food delivery person at their gate. 

When launching its post-checkpoint gym concept, one of the first hurdles ROAM had to clear was convincing airports that a fitness center was worth the opportunity cost. In the end, airports began to see that a workout facility provides curb appeal and is a positive option for passengers and employees, says Manegold. It also leads to increased sales in other areas of the facility, he adds, noting that research shows happy travelers spend more money. 

 “We are bringing in individuals that normally go straight from Security to their gate and aren’t making any transaction whatsoever,” Manegold explains. “This picks up money that was left on the table and results in secondary transactions.” 

Fully 60% to 70% of the customers at the gym at BWI are departing travelers, and many are repeat visitors who come to the airport early to work out before they take off. Arriving travelers are less common but not unheard of, and some are red-eye travelers who just want a shower or a more private place to stretch. 

The company offers discounted rates for airport and airline employees. “We think what we’re doing not only benefits the passenger, but the greater airport community as a whole,” says Manegold. “We want people to feel happy, healthy and like they used their free time efficiently.” 

Apparently, that idea is resonating. “We’re seeing more and more employees beginning to make use of that facility and fit the workout into their flying schedule,” reports Smith.

Healthy Concessions 

Airport officials appreciate the balance that their concessions manager strikes between trendy health food items and traditional favorites that are often less nutritionally virtuous. Fraport (formerly Airmall) realizes that at the end of the day, its vendors need to make a profit by offering products that sell, Smith explains. 

“You can go to Pie Five’s and get a veggie pizza, or you can get one that might send you into cardiac arrest,” he says with a laugh. “It just depends on your preference.” 

Fraport has been the concessions developer/landlord at BWI since 2003, growing from a handful of vendors with a couple dozen units to 89 individual leaseholders operating 116 units. Brett Kelly, vice president of Airmall Maryland, attributes the growth to a number of factors: a targeted focus on local-, small- and minority-owned businesses; more choices for travelers; and more revenue for the airport. “More competition is good for everyone, most notably the passenger,” notes Kelly. “The benefit to the passenger is most evident: More choices equals more satisfaction. We know through passenger feedback that this is one of the many considerations travelers take into account when choosing an airport. It’s a win-win.” 

Fully 95% of the food/beverage vendors at BWI offer health-oriented options such as protein smoothies, gluten-free pizza and turkey or vegan burgers. Gachi House of Sushi receives glowing online reviews for its traditional items, plus extra compliments for its “frushi” (fruit sushi). “Passengers no longer have to give themselves a ‘pass’ on maintaining healthy habits just because they are traveling,” explains Kelly. “BWI makes it a priority to help passengers and employees alike to stay committed to a health-conscious lifestyle.”

Fraport’s street pricing allows both groups of customers to buy with confidence and not worry about overpaying because they’re at an airport, explains Kelly. Airmall was the first company to introduce the pricing model at U.S. airports, he adds.  

“Passengers speak with their dollars,” Kelly continues. “Sales per enplanement [at BWI] is at an all-time high near $11, and is in the top 10 percent in the nation and growing every year.” 

Smith is especially pleased with Fraport’s work to help the airport offer diverse food options for all passengers. “They make sure that we have at least one dedicated health food option on the concourse and the others have something on the menu,” he explains. 

Employee Satisfaction Factor

“Don’t lose sight of the fact that these health and fitness amenities are things employees can benefit from as well,” advises Smith. “It will go a long way in helping establish the customer service personality you want in your workforce. Healthy people are happier people.”

On that note, the Maryland Aviation Administration is developing a more structured wellness program that will include health incentive programs for BWI employees. Meanwhile, Smith reports that the airport’s current exercise and healthy dining options have already made a noticeable impact engaging the employee base. Some of his office personnel use the ROAM Fitness center every morning. 

Employees also help balance use of the facility throughout the day, notes Manegold. “It’s really a blessing how it works out,” he reflects. “When the airport and airline employees have time off to use it is usually when we don’t have passengers in. It never feels like we’re overbooking the facility and helps us hedge against the normal volatility of the ups and downs that concessionaires must deal with.” 

He compliments BWI for supporting its employees with healthy amenities that are more typical of large corporate campuses. 

Advice From the Trenches

After working on health initiatives with a variety of airports, Kelly suggests looking close to home when adding healthy food/beverage options. Starting locally has allowed Fraport to expand programs organically and provide concepts that are in tune with an airport’s specific mission and community, he explains.  

Kelly also recommends expanding services by offering options like the ROAM Fitness center. “That has been one of the most beneficial partnerships we’ve made to serve the health-conscious passenger,” Kelly relates. “But space-constrained airports can consider something as simple as stationary bikes in holdrooms or common areas.” 

Lastly, Kelly stresses the importance of engaging the airport audience for feedback, because consumers’ definitions of “healthy” can vary considerably. With food trends ranging from paleo and vegan to Atkins and gluten-free, Kelly notes that customers look for different things and are willing to tell airports what they want. The ability to customize food items without compromising service is especially important in airport settings, he adds 

Smith agrees, noting that BWI is currently trying to achieve two very different goals: make the airport easy to get through quickly, while also making it a destination where visitors want to linger. “We want to be ahead of the game, and offer those experiences here,” he explains. 


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