WHAT OTHERS SAY: Kansas City airport outdated, no longer serves travelers

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | 2:53 p.m. CST

When Kansas City International Airport opened in 1972, it was considered one of the most modern in the nation — a facility designed to mesh with the automobile society.

Kansas Citians loved its drive-up access. Passengers could be dropped off and picked up right at the gate.

Only six months later, everything changed. In another city, a man took out a weapon and said, “Take me to Cuba.” Amid a furor over hijackings, KCI’s dispersed layout became a security challenge.

It was perhaps inevitable that Kansas City would someday join the ranks of conventional airports, with their cavernous lobbies linking long concourses.

Recently, the City Council acquiesced to reality and authorized an extensive study for a new airport. The new facility could be open by 2020.

For the council, it was the right move. But a hard one.

KCI is a one-trick airport. But that trick — ease of access for local residents — is greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, the trick comes with increasingly tough trade-offs. Where customers are spread thin, choices are sparse. KCI’s menu of food-service outlets and concessions leaves a lot to be desired.

Visitors have complained for years about the clunky system for summoning taxis, which involves locating a special phone and waiting until a driver is dispatched from a holding facility. In other airports, such services are consolidated and operated with more efficiency.

A new airport would provide a big improvement in terms of security costs. KCI has a screener workforce of 550, while all three airports in the New York area use just 600. In addition, the proposed new airport would be built four miles closer to downtown Kansas City.

It would enclose up to 800,000 square feet compared with the current KCI’s 1.2 million square feet but it could handle up to 15 million passengers a year, compared with the current volume of 9 million to 11 million. The current number of major carriers at KCI has dropped from 10 to six, but Mark VanLoh, Kansas City Aviation director, says the new airport could attract substantially more business and more flights.

And a concourse-style airport would end the current discomfort of relatively confined pre-boarding areas with limited rest room facilities for secured passengers.

VanLoh calls KCI a three-ring circus. If an airline moves from one terminal to another, that can leave a nearby concession stand facing a deserted corridor. If the airline moves to the typically crowded Terminal B — the other two are half empty — the move can make it tougher for other carriers to expand.

Southwest Airlines would like to add flights but cannot because the Aviation Department can’t provide additional gates, VanLoh says. In the new airport, carriers could be shifted easily. To post their logo, they could simply plug in a flash drive to change an electronic display.

Bottom line, the problems that come with KCI’s layout mean fewer flight choices for passengers, diminished choices in concessions and less revenue for the city’s aviation fund. KCI has the “lowest revenue per passenger of any airport in the United States,” VanLoh says.

A new airport would not require a local tax increase. It would be paid for by commercial aviation users across the nation — both passengers and airlines — as well as by bonds backed by concession revenue. Constructing it would inject between $1 billion and $2 billion into the regional economy.

So far so good: The Aviation Department has made a good case, and the city should proceed.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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Corey Parks November 23, 2011 | 3:48 p.m.

Having flown in and out of more airports in this country and others then I would like to count I would say that KCI is by far the fastest and easiest to use and would be disappointed if they changed it up.

With costs of everything going up and up and no commercial all electric or solar/wind powered plans on the drawing board I would say it would be a huge risk to reinvent the wheel on a new airport.

(Report Comment)
Steve Baumann November 23, 2011 | 5:27 p.m.

I have to agree with Corey Parks, I've traveled a fair bit too and KCI is a wonderful facility. It would be a shame to have that ruined, it should be promoted - why make it another "me too" facility. I'm not convinced that a new airport is needed or the best thing, especially now.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle November 23, 2011 | 5:43 p.m.

Ditto above. It's a waste, and a terrible shame, that irrational risk assessment should kill what was once an incredibly convenient and human-needs centric facility.

Now, Kansas City will end up with the worst, most fear-centric, profit-centric, inconvenient monster that morons could ever possibly dream of. Welcome to the Brave New Word.

(Report Comment)
Corl Leach November 24, 2011 | 9:48 a.m.

Of note, the article should make it clear that Kansas City is considering a new airport terminal, not an entirely new airport. The existing runways and aircraft support infrastructure will remain in place. Being "4 miles closer" only reflects a new terminal location such that access will not require drivers to go north of the airport before turning southbound between the parallel runways to reach the concourses.

(Report Comment)
Steve Baumann November 24, 2011 | 2:49 p.m.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the current terminals. That is the problem. And it was not that long ago they were totally updated.....

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Jolly November 24, 2011 | 11:23 p.m.

My wife thought we were saving money on the plane tickets to fly into KCI two years ago. We usually fly into Lambert-St. Louis, but we planned some vacationing in west Missouri before coming to Columbia. Then we got to the rental car desk.

We got charged 80 dollars for the Kansas City 'arena tax' on the rental car. For that kind of money, they should have given us tickets to an event. We won't be flying in there anymore.

Obviously, flying straight into Columbia at Regional Airport is still a joke, maybe that will improve one day.

To get back to the issue, we certainly had no problem with the KCI terminals, finding the luggage, getting in and out of the airport, etc. We have been in a lot worse international airports.

(Report Comment)

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