KC seeks bigger slice of travel pie

Columbians favor St. Louis, which is 30 minutes closer than Kansas City International.
Monday, November 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 8, 2007

As far as the airport’s administration is concerned, all that stands between Kansas City International Airport and domination of mid-Missouri’s air travel market is 30 minutes.

According to, that’s how much longer it takes to drive the 145 miles from the intersection of Providence and Broadway in Columbia to Kansas City Airport versus the 122 miles to Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

Kansas City Aviation, operator of Kansas City International Airport, launched a marketing campaign in mid-Missouri last week to convince mid-Missourians that savings at their airport are worth the extra time.

Columbia and Jefferson City residents are seeing television, radio and online ads, in addition to billboards on Interstate 70 that emphasize the potential savings of flying from Kansas City.

“The biggest complaint by customers when I find a lower fare at Kansas City is that they don’t want to drive the extra distance,” said travel agent Paula Thomas of Canterbury Travel in Columbia.

Thomas estimates that about 70 percent of the tickets she books are out of St. Louis. She said there is more opportunity for lower fares at Kansas City International, but most customers don’t like the extra driving.

Don Ruebling of Mo-X, Columbia’s airport ground shuttle transportation service serving both airports, said customers going to Lambert outnumber those going to Kansas City by four or five to one.

A 2001 study funded by the University of Missouri, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations found that 56 percent of Columbia air passengers began their trips at Lambert, 31 percent at Kansas City, and 13 percent at Columbia Regional Airport.

Kansas City Aviation hopes the prices of its low-fare carriers can change these numbers.

“The presence of low-fare carriers at Kansas City increases the number of options available to travelers,” said Joe McBride, marketing manager for Kansas City Aviation.

He said many of the carriers may offer nonstop flights that aren’t available out of St. Louis. Many of these options come from Southwest Airlines, which is now the largest operator at Kansas City. He said Kansas City’s mix of large and small carriers give travelers more choices.

McBride said travelers from mid-Missouri likely have preferred Lambert in the past, particularly when its status as the hub of now-defunct Trans World Airlines meant a wealth of available nonstop flights.

“Over 90 percent of the time the choice is price-driven,” said Christine Spurling at Global Travel, who has been booking airline tickets for Columbia residents for 14 years. She said that it is difficult to say at which airport travelers generally find cheaper fares, as many factors — including destination and season — influence prices.

Travelers who choose Columbia Regional Airport have one option—an American Airlines flight to St. Louis. Thomas estimates that less than 10 percent of her sales are of tickets originating in Columbia. She has suggested that American offer a flight from Columbia to Kansas City in the past, but the airline said it wasn’t feasible.

Kansas City International is about to complete a $258 million renovation of all three of its terminals. The project includes expanding the terminals’ size and improving their infrastructure. The project, begun in 2001, will formally end with Southwest moving into a new terminal Nov. 16 and increases the airport’s capacity from 12 million to 16 million per year.

Lambert is also upgrading. A $1.1 billion renovation expansion to be completed in 2006 includes improvements to terminals and a new runway.

An estimated 20.5 million travelers used Lambert in 2003, compared to 9.5 million at Kansas City, according to authorities at each.

The airports reported similar 2003 flight delay numbers. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, delayed flights (those arriving or departing more than 15 minutes after the scheduled time) at Lambert accounted for 10.4 percent of departures and 15 percent of arrivals. Kansas City saw 9.2 percent of departures and 14 percent of arrivals delayed.

Nationally, 13 percent of departures and 16.3 percent of arrivals were delayed last year.

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