Kansas City Desperately Needs a New Terminal But That Hinges On a Vote Next Week

There is no shortage of bad airport projects in the US. You know those airports, the ones that throw money into overbuilding palaces. (Exhibit A: the home of the scary bunny) But there are also, of course, good airport projects out there like the new Kansas City terminal effort. This seems like a no-brainer from every angle, but it may never happen. Next Tuesday, the people of Kansas City (and only Kansas City, Missouri) will vote on whether to move forward or not. Polls earlier this month showed an extremely narrow margin of victory for the project, but as we all know, a lot can change in a month. If this goes down to defeat next week, the people of Kansas City will have made a big mistake.

On November 11, 1972, Kansas City officially opened its gleaming new paradise. The trio of horseshoe-shaped terminals looked like a shamrock, and was designed with the traveler in mind. Locals would be able to drive right up to the curb near their gate and take just a few steps before boarding their flights. It was a vision for convenience… for almost a month.

In December of that year, the US decided to require airport security, and Kansas City’s airport instantly became obsolete. The airport was forced to shoehorn in security equipment and carve up the terminal the best it could in order to comply. This might sound like Dallas/Ft Worth to you, but it’s way worse. DFW was designed with wider terminals that were capable of handling the security systems that were needed. Kansas City has just never had enough space.

The airport obviously had to deal with this inefficiency the best it could, and it has done so for an impressively long time. In the early days of security, while space was at a premium, it wasn’t all that hard to go in and out to use the bathroom or get food. Fast forward to the security changes after 9/11, however, and things got ugly.

Post-9/11, people only wanted to go through security once because of the invasive harassment required every time. That meant the airport had to not only pull in more concessions and bathrooms, but it also had to figure out a way to better deal with connecting flights. Many airlines have tried to hub in Kansas City and failed. Modifications were made over time to make a hub operationally-viable. Security was reconfigured to allow more gates behind a single checkpoint (but still not that many). Most recently, Southwest has turned Kansas City into a prototypical mid-size city with many connecting opportunities. To fix the security problem for Southwest, a gerbil tube was stapled on to the side of the terminal to let people walk between Southwest’s secure areas for a connection. The amount of “cobbling together” required to keep this airport functioning is remarkable.

What you have today is a series of cramped boarding areas with far too many (albeit fewer than before) security checkpoints separating them from each other. Over the last few years, airlines have increasingly been upgauging aircraft (even Southwest has switched its growth focus from the formerly-137, now-143-seat 737-700s to 175-seat 737-800/MAX 8 aircraft.) At the same time, load factors have climbed. That means more people are on each flight, and the airport simply isn’t built to handle it. The place is squeezed.

As airlines consolidated, so did Kansas City, and that created opportunity to fix these problems once and for all. The airport shuttered Terminal A in 2014, leaving 34 gates between Terminals B and C. Today, 30 gates are in use with Alaska, Southwest, and Delta at Terminal B and the rest in Terminal C.

As if the constraints aren’t enough of a reason to want to build something new, the airport is starting to crumble. Several programs were put into place to extend the life of the structure, but something major had to be done.

The ultimate plan put forward by the airport was to take advantage of the closure of Terminal A and build a new, single, 35-gate terminal (expandable to 42 and beyond) on that site. Once that was built, Terminals B and C would be closed for good. This project with a single checkpoint and concourses capable of handling a higher volume of travelers would cost about $1 billion.

A billion dollars might sound like a lot, and it is. But looking at the situation Kansas City finds itself in, that is the most economical way to solve the airport’s problems. Some have suggested that airport should renovate, but such extensive renovations would be needed at the airport just to keep it running that it would probably cost half that just to retain the status quo. To make any needed improvements to gate areas, checkpoints, baggage handling, etc beyond that? It would easily become more expensive than just starting over.

The project is set to be financed through airport revenues and bonds that’ll be guaranteed by airport revenues. In other words, as always, no taxpayers will be harmed in the filming of this movie.

Kansas City’s cost per enplanement (CPE) is right around $7 today. With much of the debt falling off soon, building this whole terminal is expected to bring the CPE up to only $9. That’s quite reasonable, and the airlines agree. Southwest has been actively stumping for the project. I don’t believe a single airline is against it. That certainly says something.

So, uh, who IS against it? Apparently, nearly half the voters. The airport is run by the city of Kansas City, so it’s up to the city to make the decision. There has been all kinds of ridiculous local political back-and-forth on this, and thanks to a citizen petition, it now goes on the ballot. What’s nuts here, however, is that maybe a quarter of the locals who use the airport actually reside in the city, so the other 75 percent are held hostage by what the city decides. Heck, most of the local users don’t even reside in the same state. (Kansas is just a hop across the Missouri River.)

I remain confused by the opposition. There’s one Facebook group that goes by the misnomer “Friends of KCI.” It seems to be pushing a fantasy renovation plan that would somehow be cheaper than the new-build and would theoretically solve all the airport’s problems. I don’t see how that’s possible. Probably the most coherent argument I’ve seen against the plan is that locals like the convenience of the existing structure. But those people probably haven’t been shoe-horned into those holdrooms for long periods of time. It’s a design that has to go.

The rest of the arguments against really seem mostly centered around the idea that “the government says we should do this and the government is bad.” Welcome to politics in America, 2017 edition. There’s no rational argument that I can see. Instead it just jumps around to things as strange as claims about ancient slave burial grounds or rumors of a lost mythical “Pilot Hub” for Southwest.

The reality here is pretty straightforward. Kansas City needs to spend money to fix this. A new terminal is the most economical option that also happens to improve the experience dramatically. There’s no financial risk to the local taxpayers, and the airlines want it. It’s remarkable to me that this has a chance of losing on Tuesday.

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90 Responses to Kansas City Desperately Needs a New Terminal But That Hinges On a Vote Next Week

  1. ChuckMO says:

    Well the only problem I see with your last photoshop is that terminal C will be re-purposed into office space so that means B will have to be a ginormous fountain…of BBQ sauce. But yes, something needs to be done at MCI.

    • CF says:

      ChuckMO – Last I heard, Terminal C was up in the air and nothing was actually in stone there. The one definite error in my photo is that the garage in Terminal B will remain open for employee parking, so maybe that becomes a garage surrounded by a moat of sauce. So many sauce-related options…

  2. Tim Dunn says:

    As much as Americans love their ability to control their own destiny, you have to wonder how much more air service MCI could support if it had the right facilities. It is hard to believe that airlines are intentionally passing up opportunities in a market that is almost entirely local but who knows.

    • CF says:

      Tim – Well, this new terminal isn’t really a growth strategy, though Southwest has said that it has not been able to optimize the airport the way it normally would. I’m trying to get the airline to go on the record about that. But of course, they won’t guarantee new service when a new terminal opens. Who knows what it’ll look like 5 years down the line? Still, there is limited opportunity today. A new terminal would provide greater opportunity if Southwest wanted to grow.

      • Tim Dunn says:

        precisely… and I suppose if an airline actually promised that they would grow MCI if there was a new terminal, it might help some people decide to support it. Unfortunately, you can’t convince some people that infrastructure is inadequate, esp. if they have become accustomed to using it.

        The real issue – which many of the comments aren’t capturing – is whether federally funded airports should be controlled by local voters if there is no risk that the taxpayers have to pay for the refurbishments. Perhaps you can cite an example but I can’t think of any examples of US cities that have had to bear the costs of airports outside of airport funds or to taxpayers directly. Unless there is compelling evidence that the residents of the city are at risk of paying for the airport, then the residents should not be allowed to torpedo a process to improve interstate facilities which are federally funded anyway.

        I am not out to usurp local control where it really impacts local citizens but US airports operate as standalone entities even when operated by cities. Given that reality, there really should be a discussion about what citizens can and cannot do to stop development if they have no financial impact – and I can’t think there is any other way that citizens would be negatively impacted.

        • Jonathan R says:

          “The real issue – which many of the comments aren’t capturing – is whether federally funded airports should be controlled by local voters if there is no risk that the taxpayers have to pay for the refurbishments.”

          The city would be borrowing money. Anytime you go into debt, you assume risk.

          “I am not out to usurp local control where it really impacts local citizens but US airports operate as standalone entities even when operated by cities.”

          Not true.

          The federal government (FAA) regulates and operates the runways, taxiways, air traffic control, landing slots (if necessary), passenger and baggage screening (TSA), Customs and Immigration (ICE).

          The local airport authority (in our case, Kansas City) operates the terminals/concourses, gate leases, roadways, parking lots and structures, blue bus, red bus, employee shuttle bus, car rental facilities, retail shopping leases.

          If you want to add a RUNWAY, its up to the FAA.

          If you want a new TERMINAL, its up to the local controlling authority.

          • Tim Dunn says:

            yes, I understand that. The question is whether any city or its citizens have had to foot the bill from general city funds for terminal facilities. I can’t say for certain but I am pretty sure the answer at least in modern history is that non-airport city funds have ever had to bail out the finances of a city-operated airport. if that hasn’t happened before and won’t happen at MCI, then the honest question is what right citizens have to block an improvement project whether the best excuse I have heard is a fear of parking location.
            If there is a real possibility of additional growth – and you have to think WN at a minimum would grow service if it had access to a better terminal at MCI, then there is little reason to cling to a rundown, inadequate terminal building that was never even designed to meet current global, not just US, airport standards.

            • Jonathan R says:

              Hi Tim:

              “what right citizens have to block an improvement project . . ..”

              The right under the city charter to approve revenue bonds.over a threshold dollar amount, or for specific large scale public infrastructure projects.

              I find it odd that anyone would take issue with voters having electoral input on their municipality taking on a billion dollars of debt, and allocating that financial outlay to something as prominent as an international airport terminal construction within their city. If the city council wants the project to go forward, why can’t they come up with a plan and persuade a simple majority of their constituents to vote to approve it? Is that really so unacceptable to the rest of us?

              Some civic charters require voter approval to issue revenue bonds for specified purposes or above specified dollar amounts. If the public entity had some alternate revenue source, where they did not have to take on debt, and where their public infrastructure would be not significantly affected, then I would be more persuaded by your argument.

              I hope the voters approve the new airport terminal on Tuesday. I don’t live in the city, so I don’t have a vote. As a suburbanite, should I really have the right to demand – that a city in which I do not live, be forced to take on debt and allocate it to an airport project that city residents don’t support – just because outsiders including myself, want to reap the benefits of said project?

              Tim, I don’t believe that you really believe that I’m entitled to make such demands.

              Cheers!
              Jon R

            • CF – I’d be really curious to know how these bonds are structured. From what I’ve seen bonds are usually backed by a specific revenue source. (i.e. the bonds are backed by the PFCs, and only the PFCs, not the full faith and credit of the city.)

            • CF says:

              Nick – My understanding is that they are planning to do private bond placements here, but they will be guaranteed by airport revenue.

            • Makes sense. The details would be in the bond documents, but I’d be surprised if there is a legal recourse for the bond holders to go after the city as a whole, instead of just the airport.

              But to Jonathan’s point “The city would be borrowing money. Anytime you go into debt, you assume risk.”

              If a bond issue is structured properly the city as an entity doesn’t have risk, only the city’s asset and department, the airport, is at risk if there isn’t enough revenue to service the debt. (And even that might not be at risk, the bond holders might only be able to go against the airport’s revenue, not its assets.

              So the city doesn’t assume any risk.

            • CF says:

              Nick – I’ve never seen an airport bond project where the community at large has been on the hook.

            • Tim Dunn says:

              “I’ve never seen an airport bond project where the community at large has been on the hook.”

              thank you… .that is precisely my point. If there are financial barriers between airports and the communities they serve, then it is hard to understand how citizens can be allowed to vote for or against airport projects.

            • CF says:

              Tim – Well there is still community investment here. It’s run by the city. The police and emergency response is run by the city. There is an impact.

            • Tim Dunn says:

              help me out… how does the impact to the police and fire dept. change with a different shaped but similar sized terminal?
              If anything, operational costs will go down in a lot of areas – but I can’t see how police or fire services change at all with a facility that has the same number of gates but in a different arrangement.

              Maybe within 26 hours or so, we’ll know what the good folks of KC think.

            • CF says:

              Tim – I can’t say I know, but I’d assume that it would have an impact in some way. If the feds want to nationalize the airports, then they can make the decisions. But as long as the cities or local airport authorities are in charge, there’s no way to tell them what to do.

      • LarryZ says:

        Why is everyone so hell bent on SW? Have you ever shopped prices? SW is often beaten and they lack an international operation. They also are not winning the Dot intime performance stats.

        • SirWired says:

          SW most certainly does have international; have you looked at their route map any time in the last few years? And for leisure travelers checking bags, SW at least matches the other airlines, and often does better (sometimes much better.) And top that off with the “cheap and cheerful” overall experience, and that’s a winning combination.

          Now, SW could never be the only airline for a decent airport because of the lack of an alliance membership to connect to more places than SW serves, but there’s a reason they are today’s largest domestic operator.

    • Gary73 says:

      The airlines have already spoken…and past up on added air service due to the constraints and shortcomings of the current terminal. AA waved off upgauging flights due to poor gate hold space and security checkpoint congestion. Southwest runs flights with forecasted (actual) connection supplements over STL rather than MCI due to gate and security checkpoint constraints even though operating costs at MCI are lower. for the first time in almost 2 years, MCI showed a year over year decline in pax in September, much due to lower ASMs and actual pax at AA. The 50 and 70 seaters are going away and the basic narrowbody mainline AC (737’s/A320s) hold more people than their earlier counterparts: BUT the gate holds and ramp space are hardpressed to handle them. Independent industry analysis forecasts approx. 1.9% annual industry growth but even that modest increase can’t be accommodated at MCI.

  3. Kilroy says:

    Your second image probably shouldn’t also have the title of “Kansas City Airport Today”.

    Also, MCI doesn’t appear to be too far from downtown or too inconvenient, but I’m surprised that some scheduled air charters haven’t tried running to the Charles Wheeler downtown airport, a la Ultimate Air Shuttle using Cincinnati’s sunken Lunken airport instead of CVG.

    • Jonathan R says:

      Some visiting Major-League Baseball franchise charters use the Kansas City Wheeler Downtown Airport (MKC). The Kansas City Royals charters routinely depart and arrive at this airport.

      Wheeler Downtown airport was designed during the propeller-age, but was not ideal for modern scheduled passenger jet airliner operations due in-part to the 3.2° non-precision approach angle required to Runway 1 from the south. Jets that use this airport usually land from the north on runway 19, but depart from the south on runway 1 due to high obstacles across the river in the West Bottoms, as well as the significant elevation of the river levee at the south end of the runway.

      • Kilroy says:

        Thanks for the information. That’s pretty much what I figured, and it is similar to how Cincinnati’s Lunken airport is used, for corporate planes, general aviation, and charters. From a cursory glance, it appears that smaller, 30-seat scheduled charter service out of MKC would probably be feasible if anyone were to try that model (again, similar to what Ultimate Air does out of KLUK; I forget the federal rules statute that this falls into, but I know that no airport security is required). Whether Kansas City, which appears to control both MCI and MKC, would allow that to happen would be another story.

        • Jonathan R says:

          I don’t know that the city would be against that given that they have spent a fair amount on keeping that airport open for general aviation and ad hoc charter use. There are two Fixed Based Operators located there, and Wheeler enjoys continuous FAA tower and ground controllers on duty, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

          The city does indeed own and operate both MCI and MKC, and during the 1990s, they also operated a third airport (GVW) on the south side of town near Grandview Missouri, after the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base was closed. It had a single 9000-ft. paved runway with ILS, but was ultimately closed and converted to an inland port facility with an intermodal terminal, warehouse district, and Mazda’s regional offload railhead.

  4. A says:

    Playing devils advocate here, the optics aren’t good where airlines spend billions of their own dollars to build terminals in places like LAX and JFK while they aren’t offering to do the same at MCI. I know it’s not an apples to apples comparison but think like someone in flyover country for a moment. Personally I like the more central planning aspect of terminals built with public money and “shared” by airlines than the mess of crap you get at places like JFK, but I can understand the sentiment of “if an airline wants a better terminal they can build it themselves.”

    That said I think it’s wishful thinking to assume a build it and they will come mentality to a new terminal at MCI. They are pretty central between major hubs at ORD, DFW, MSP and DEN. Likewise former hubs at STL and MEM tell the story that MCI shouldn’t expect a return to greatness as a hub airport city. More flights with a new terminal – maybe – more connections, I wouldn’t bet on it.

    The plans for 35 gates seem modest but the price tag does seem a bit extreme. We aren’t building in NYC here. I’d suggest the MCI folks go visit RDU Terminal 2. That is about the same number of gates, opened in 2008 for $570M project cost. Even with inflation they should be well under $1B and quite frankly RDU is one of my favorite mid-sized city airport terminals out there. So back to Cranky’s opening – I think this is a little bit of a palace.

    • CF says:

      A – Why would an airline bother putting money into a new terminal at Kansas City? The airport can do it and keep operating costs low, so there’s no incentive. Everyone gets to use the new terminal, so it’s not a matter of gaining a competitive advantage. But even in places like LA where it seems like airlines are paying for the work, much of the funding comes from the airport and gets repaid over time.

      Maybe I can find a way to do a comparison to RDU’s terminal at some point. There are real differences there.

    • Gary73 says:

      Financing for the new KCI is through airport revenue, AIP and private bonds, guaranteed by the airlines through a residual rental agreement. They’ve agreed to this already. The city will have an option later to go to public bonds if the terms are more favorable. But the airlines will still guarantee the debt service. Cost overruns? airlines pay. under cost? airlines benefit.

  5. It’s remarkable to me how many of these renovation projects are being driven by current “security” requirements. The only post 9/11 fix maybe needed was cockpit doors; of course, that led to unintended consequence of Germanwings and maybe MH370.

    The real “fix” is for western countries to stop going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, but then revolving door helpers like Michael Chertoff don’t make millions.

    I’m sure contractors don’t mind filling holes they dug already either …

  6. Liz Ardell says:

    Kansas City resident here and I will be voting YES next week. Most No voters are not understanding the issues surrounding this crumbling airport. Most No voters that I’ve spoken to sing praises for the ease of getting through security and how they don’t have to walk forever to get to their gate after they go through security (roll eyes). Basically, the infrequent travelers love this airport. Personally, I think the airport would have been better if they wouldn’t have moved all the concessions into the boarding areas and left them outside security, then you’d see this initiative pass with no opposition (don’t get between people and their Starbucks).

    • Jonathan R says:

      The airport was built before airline deregulation, when the term ‘fortress hub’ did not exist. Therefore, KCI’s design catered to O/D passengers, not passengers making connections who must spend a fair amount of time in the airport.

      You are correct that it is outdated, and that local leisure travelers embrace KCI’s simplicity. The huge hurdle has been convincing the occasional flyer how a different terminal concept would benefit them. Many have tried, with scant (if any) success. Tuesday’s election results will indicate whether enough attitudes have changed.

  7. Outer+Space+Guy says:

    My first thought when looking at the photos was:
    1] make terminal B the checkin/checkpoint/baggage claim area. No gates in this terminal.
    2] Move those planes to Terminal A and reopen Terminal A, and remove all the security and baggage from terminals A and C.
    3] connect a tram (like Phoenix or Dallas, etc) between the Terminal B and A+C.

    Everything in (A) and (C) are now inside security, as the checkin and checkpoints and baggage claim and etc are only in (B).

    Seems like there would plenty of room that way, right?

    Sounds like a new tram would be much cheaper than what they are proposing.

    • Shane says:

      Trams are extremely expensive. You would end up spending more money gutting and creating a new setup with trams and the existing facilities than building new. Gut and renovation is almost always more expensive than brand new, purpose-built in ANY building type (with few exceptions based on political or artificial legislative/legal requirements)

    • Oliver says:

      Gerbil tubes. Cheaper than trains and after eating all the BBQ the local folks and us visitors need a way to work off their weight gains.

  8. Shane says:

    I have flows through MCI many, many times as a destination and transfer point. If you talk to any frequent traveler, they will tell you that the parking situation right now is great, but the layout of the check-in desks (sometimes halfway around the horseshoe) and the abysmal concession options make the airport a loser.

    Concessions are a major factor that you do not mention in your write-up, and part of what will make the project viable. The ability to have more concessions (food and stuff) available to ALL passengers before and after security will bring in a huge stream of revenue that currently cannot be captured. What some of the Kansas City people don’t realize is that they are already paying a tax of sorts by not having more concessions in that it contributes to the airport’s cost per enplanement.I am sure that part of the $9/enplanement includes a factor for concession revenue that keeps that number as low as it is.

    • gobleutwo says:

      I, too, have flown through MCI many times. Not only the miserable concessions and check-in counter locations, but the inadequate bathroom facilities, lack of space and crammed-in seats, lack of modern amenities like electrical outlets, the cobbled-together and slow security at the far ends of the horseshoe (at least in C). Heaven forbid you experience a significant delay, because it WILL be an uncomfortable wait.

  9. Jeremy Anderson says:

    This is an Eye opening video, even mor so if you consider that its 5 years old.

    https://youtu.be/VsPYlHmlmRc

    Not only does it show the crowding at the terminals, but it includes the baggage security and how miserable that is.

    I found this video after I connected through KCi on Southwest. We had a one stop, no plane change. We were going to be there for about an hour, so we had the option of getting off if we did not want to stay on the plane for an hour.

    We got off the plane, took one look at the chaos of the terminal, and got right back on the plane.

    Think about that; the terminal is so bad and crowded that we chose to stay in a 737 for an hour instead of the terminal.

    • Thank you for the video, I found my pictures of the gerbil tube about 14 minutes in, but there was good discussion of it starting at 12 minutes in through 16 minutes or so.. (then I went onto other things..

  10. Lorenzo39 says:

    What’s surprising is the DEAFENING SILENCE about KCI problems from city government and local media. TV follows the usual “murder, murder, WEATHER, fire, rape, road rage” formula and the mayor’s already on record saying that “if it doesn’t pass, it’s the next mayor’s problem.” What will it take to move this forward? A realistic proposal from the two adjacent Kansas counties to move the airport there. Yes, I’m talking about a similar move by Illinois to move the St. Louis airport across state lines. Like a bolt of lightning, that will guarantee a new terminal in Missouri. Sad.

  11. Brian says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I will be voting YES next week.

  12. Bill Hough says:

    Perhaps one reason that there is opposition to this proposal is that folks are starting to wise up to the edifice complex at places such as SMF. Could the proposed terminal be “value engineered” so that it is not so extravagant as the Palace of the Scary Bunny?” An overbuilt palace is one reason why airport food is so expensive. Anyone recall the concept of “street pricing?”

    • MRY-SMF says:

      Before SMF had the bunny, we didn’t have flights to New Orleans, Austin, and Orlando. Thanks to the bunny, and nothing but the bunny, we will starting this spring.

      • John says:

        Ha! You would have them sooner. Southwest was against that bunny and reduced flights because of the cost. Only recently costs are where they can add flights

    • Oliver says:

      I don’t live anywhere near MCI, but how much does the average voter (not average Cranky devotee) know about those other airport projects?

      And how many of those in the opposition would fly through Changi, Hong Kong etc and come back decrying that we have 3rd world facilities here?

  13. Dave says:

    Great post, thank you. Lots of straightforward facts which will be ignored by 50% of the populace. I have lived in KC for three years now and cannot for the life of me understand why so many people are against it. I have settled on a combination of desire for simplicity, fear of change, and a heavy dose of good old fashioned Missouri anti-government paranoia.

    • Eric Morris says:

      Well, my airport is the #1 in the country often, IND. I think it is great for visitors (except being ten miles further than old terminal) but find it to be a major hassle as a local, especially with kids. Maybe when schlepping car seats up and over an unnecessary bridge over the roadway is taken out of equation, my views will change. Maybe (some of) the paranoid and ignorant really aren’t.

      • Dave says:

        Well I can tell you from experience that kids don’t make anything easy LOL. Two people can have different views on what the airport experience should be and both be right. Some people define “convenience” in distances walked, others define it in terms of things like amount of seating available at the gate and the number of restrooms. What frustrates me about what is happening in MO right now are the lengths that people are going to in terms of putting out falsehoods in an attempt to block the airport. People are crazy.

  14. JayB says:

    Airline service issue number 2,345,212! Cranky to the rescue, and I can’t imagine anyone more qualified to do it.

    Perhaps the fine people of KC will vote the funding and let Southwest use the revamped airport as its mid-continent hub, taking up all the gates, but subject to legacy-pal pols’ “Son of Wright Amendment” to ensure that it can’t use it to serve outbound and inbound KC locals. Let them drive to Lambert in STL.

    Maybe get some funding from Smithsonian to make Terminal A as the National Airport Museum

  15. steve says:

    I sort of like visiting, but no surprise – Kansas City has been fifteen years behind everyone for 40 or 50 years now.

    • DAB says:

      I thought everything was up to date I Kansas City… They’ve gone about as far as they can go…

  16. SDFDuck says:

    MCI looks and feels like a concrete bunker. It’s by far the worst airport I have ever flown out of – worse than LGA, worse than IAD’s giant perma-trailer terminal, even worse than MIA in the mid-90s. I’d never seen 5-minute lines for the men’s room at an airport before I flew out of MCI. I cannot fathom how anyone could defend the design of the terminal in this day and age.

  17. Security checking was the reason the design failed and was the reason TWA moved out of its KC hub to STL.

    I don’t know how the second new Braniff operated a hub there using two terminals, it must have been a nightmare for a lot of connecting passengers.

  18. Darkwater says:

    About 60% of the Kansas City MSA lives in Missouri, so I’d suppose that a majority of the airport’s local users actually are Missourians

  19. I’ve never been to MCI, but my experience connecting at DFW was never pleasant with long walks between gates and an illogical layout especially for connections. Most airports I like are designed in straight lines where it’s not too difficult to walk from gate to gate such as DEN, DTW, and ATL (which seemed to set that trend).

    I remember flying out of the Delta area of Terminal C of SJC post 9/11 and once you cleared security there was a couple of vending machines and a single stall restroom beyond security. It was not pleasant.

    • Kilroy says:

      Agreed on the connecting airports. For an airport of its size, I like the ATL setup the best… Minimal walking time (unless you have time to burn, which can be quite nice) and fairly quick curb to gate and connection times.

      DFW is great to fly in and out of if you are getting dropped off or picked up at the curb, otherwise it is a pain to fly in or out of, and a huge pain to connect in.

      I’d also add CLT and MSP to the list of airports having long walks to the curb, especially for the puddle jumper gates at CLT (which are also a chore to connect from).

      My favorite mid-sized airport for curb to gate is TPA. I’ve made it from tire smoke on the runway (not arrival at the gate) to the curb as an arriving pax in 12 minutes on multiple occasions.

      • Tim Dunn says:

        Agree that ATL is probably the best US airport design; the terminals and concourses just need to be about 25% larger in every dimension. It works efficiently. Too bad DL can’t swap CVG’s concourse B with one of ATL’s.

  20. iahphx says:

    It’s literally been decades since I’ve flown into MCI. I think the last time might have been in the final days of the Eastern Airlines hub! But, coincidentally, I’ve just booked an award ticket where I have to connect at MCI from an American RJ to an Alaska mainline aircraft. I kind of assumed that wouldn’t be a time consuming proposition — how big an airport could MCI be? But now I’m wondering if this isn’t an easy connection. Can any MCI experts tell me what I’m in for? Thanks!

    • Bertha Jean says:

      AA is in Terminal C and AS is in B. Have fun.

    • Jack says:

      Was just there; flew AS on Tuesday… if you need to eat, do it before going to the airport. As a former local, MCI needs to be fixed with a new terminal 10 years ago.

      If this vote fails, the more affluent Kansas counties will probably start plotting on updating New Century as a MCI replacement

      • Jonathan R says:

        “If this vote fails, the more affluent Kansas counties will probably start plotting on updating New Century as a MCI replacement”

        When you said, “more affluent” you hit the nail on the head. Problem is, the fear of potential “airport noise,” generates a generates a proportional amount of NIMBY-itus, the more affluent you are.

    • Jonathan R says:

      You’ll have to exit Terminal C where your American flight arrives. Go to the curb and look for a sign that says, “Red Bus.” Stand underneath that sign, so that the bus driver will notice you and pick you up. When you board the red bus, tell the driver you are going to Alaska Airlines. They will drop you off at Terminal B, where you will need to go through security screening to get to your connecting flight’s gate area.

      Yep. It’s a pain in the a$$ to connect between different airlines at MCI.

      • iahphx says:

        Wow, so it’s a bus thing. Not walkable (like within 10 minutes)? I had no idea. I guess I didn’t think MCI was a “big” airport because, well, it shouldn’t be! I have an hour and a half, though — assuming everything is on schedule.

        • Cham Jum says:

          It is walkable. Less than 10 minutes. Super easy. If the photo is a good reference, it’s about the length of 4 737s between terminal end points. I never bother with the bus.

          • Jonathan R says:

            Cham Jum:

            Yes, but his actual walking distance is more than twice that distance due to the airlines he is flying in and out on. He’s coming from the American Airlines gates (near the end of Terminal C), and going to the Alaska Airlines gates (near the beginning of Terminal B). This means that the shortest walk would entail exiting Terminal B, turning to the right, walking to the end of the terminal curbwalk, going down the ramp, walking out to the Circle Parking sidewalk, turning left, follow that Circle Parking sidewalk underneath the Beruit Circle exit bridge, then underneath Beruit Circle entrance bridge, passing by the ramp up to the beginning of Terminal C, continuing on the sidewalk along that four 737-length distance between terminals you mentioned, passing the ramp up to the end of Terminal B, keep walking along the sidewalk passing under the Rome Circle exit bridge, then under the Rome Circle entrance bridge, and then turning left and locating the uphill ramp to the beginning of Terminal B, proceed up that ramp to the Terminal B curbwalk. Proceeding along the terminal B curbwalk until reaching the Alaska Airlines entrances.

            If he were connecting between Air Canada in Terminal B, and Delta in Terminal B, then I would agree with you. That is much simpler than the above, and it could be completed in 10 minutes at a leisurely pace with carry on bags in tow. However, those airline gates are located near ends of the near sides of their respective terminals. To connect between American towards the far end of Terminal C, and Alaska, at the far end of Terminal B, is more than twice that distance. It could be completed in 10 minutes only if you were walking at a brisk pace with no bags and you knew exactly where you were going, knowing exactly which ramps to use, and which ramps to skip along the way, and when to turn. The bus ride from American at the end of C, to Alaska at the beginning of B, is 3 to 4 minutes with ZERO bus stops in between. (American is the last bus stop of Terminal C, and Alaska is the first bus stop of Terminal B. Note: Terminal A is closed). The downside is that you may have to wait up to 10 minutes between buses.

            There is nothing wrong with walking between the terminals if you know precisely where you are in advance, you know precisely where you need to go, you know precisely how to get there, and you know how long it’s going to take. If you don’t know each of these criteria, make your life easier and the red bus.

          • Gary73 says:

            no it’s not an easy walk. AA is at one end of Terminal C; you need to walk to the other end, go outside with a narrow sidewalk, enter Terminal B where you navigate the large and congested Southwest complex of ticket counter and gates before getting to the closer-(to you)-of-the-two-separate Delta gate complexes. Cham Jum’s “4 737’s between the terminal end points” is not even half the trip.” I’ve worked at KCI and have walked this many, many times and you, as a passenger don’t want to do it.

            • Gary73 says:

              let me amend that…you can enter Terminal B at the Delta end and have a shorter walk than via the Southwest side. but you still have to walk past the main Delta gate complex to the smaller one where AS operates. And your’re still starting from the far end of Terminal C. It’s still a hike and I still don’t recommend it.

        • Jonathan R says:

          I’d recommend riding the red bus unless you are very familiar with the airport, and you really want to walk. The red bus is free, and the driver will drop you off in the proper location of the proper terminal for your connecting airline. If you are not familiar with the location of the steps and the pedestrian path between terminals, or where Alaska Airlines security checkpoint is located inside Terminal B, or if you are totting a roll-aboard suitcase and/or heavy carry on bags, I’d stick with the bus . . . at least on your outbound trip. That way, you’ll get an idea of the layout, then maybe you can try walking it on your return trip if you really want to. Keep in mind that November in Kansas City can be mild and pleasant, cool and breezy, or cold and blustery. The red bus is completely free, so you have nothing to lose by riding. Good Luck!

    • Cham Jum says:

      You can easily walk from the end of one terminal to the other. It’s not a big deal. Sidewalk the whole way. Just head toward circle parking. Ramp down, ramp back up to the next terminal. Bus takes longer.

      • iahphx says:

        Thanks everyone for the advice. At least I now know what I’m in for! Certainly not what I was expecting, but certainly doable. I’ll just hope for an on-time arrival into MCI, as this transfer will obviously take a little time.

    • Gary73 says:

      good luck iahphx! you just became “Exhibit One” for why we need a new terminal. Your AA RJ will land in Terminal C. depending on the inbound gate, you’ll have a bit of a hike through the congested gatehold area, to the public corridor and out to the curb. Your Alaska outbound will depart from Terminal B (neve rmind the “codeshare” marketing, you’ll be departing from a Delta complex). You will exit the Terminal C building, wait outside for a connection bus, ride to Terminal B, go through security (again) and go to your outbound Alaska flight. Delta has two separate gate hold areas with two separate security checks and they are NOT connected. Make sure you go to the right complex. (small saving grace, Alaska typical operates out of the smaller of the two). You won’t have much time for a bathroom or Starbucks break (if you can find them because they are spread out and not easily seen due to the curved terminal structure), all the while schlepping your carryon and wondering if you’ll make the outbound in time. These are the “facts” regarding what the new terminal naysayers call our “convenient” terminal. Meanwhile, in a bright, airy, truly convenient new terminal, everything would be close, you’d have plenty of time to walk to a nearby connection, hit the bathroom, Starbucks or a much better variety of amenities and say to yourself, “what a great place to fly in and out of.” Your saving grace on this trip? you’re doing it on an award ticket. Come back to KC after we (hopefully) build a new terminal and visit a great city with a great airport.

      • iahphx says:

        Yeah, it sure sounds pretty bad. Oh, well. And I thought the routing looked pretty good! Since they’re Alaska award tickets, I could change them if something better came along, but that probably won’t happen. It sometimes seems like cities build airports as vanity projects, but this appears to be a situation where a new facility is sorely needed.

  21. Chris says:

    They can bring back Vanguard and Braniff while they’re at it. On a related note, the TWA museum at the downtown airport is actually pretty awesome with all the old Connies.

  22. stogieguy7 says:

    I fly into MCI (or, as the locals call it: KCI) quite a bit on business and I can vouch for every point that Cranky makes. And I’ll even add one: only SOME of the security checkpoints are set up for TSA PreCheck. If your flight is at a gate not sersed by one of those checkpoints (and the odds are against you), you get a card and line up with everyone else. And you get a hybrid PreCheck experience where you may keep your shoes on, but your computer may have to come out of the bag (or vice versa). And yes, the gate areas are incredibly cramped with restrooms that can serve, maybe 4 people at a time. I recall connecting through there before 9/11 and security was so easy that it was no problem to dash out and grab a bite to eat, then head back in. Now, no way.

    This airport was a great concept that never anticipated the unfortunate realities of security requirements and was thus aviation’s answer to the Tucker automobile. Kudos to the KC Airport Authority for doing as much with it as they have.

  23. Stephanie Raccoon says:

    I lived in the KC area from 1999-2003. I remember liking the airport prior to 9/11. It was easy to get though security as every gate had it’s own checkpoint. The ability to get off the plane and get right on the curb was useful for the one time I didn’t have checked luggage.
    After 9/11 and the TSA took over, it got bad. They combined checkpoints, and the narrow halls just could not handle the traffic.
    Whereas I love the design of the airport, they really need a newer traditional terminal.

  24. Jonathan R says:

    I don’t live in the city limits of Kansas City, so I don’t have a vote on this. Unlike some, I don’t believe that I somehow deserve a vote, just because I use the airport frequently.

    Public airports in the United States do not usually enjoy an operating profit. They are subsidized . . . . heavily. I am not talking about capital infrastructure costs that can be financed by bonds that are serviced by user fees (passenger ticket taxes, landing fees, airline gate leases, car rental taxes, etc). I am talking about all of the recurring costs that aren’t fully covered by the above revenue. Some of these are: airport police, property management, public utility bills, etc. MCI is ‘owned’ and is located in Kansas City, Missouri, and significant amount of these costs are bourn by the city.

    Those of us that don’t live in the city, but complain about the all of the deficiencies of the airport, might consider a more proactive alternative. Why haven’t other area municipalities stepped up to encourage an airport port authority to share some of the operational cost burden in exchange for having some say electorally? Kansas City might not agree, but you and I both know why this has not and will not happen. Remember the Bi-State Tax proposal, and Bi-State II? I certainly do. I also remember that they both failed largely due to residents outside of Jackson County who wanted all of the benefits, but none of the responsibility.

    I agree the existing airport is outdated and that retrofitting the existing structures does not make much economic sense going forward. If the voters of Kansas City don’t want to build a new terminal and concourse at MCI, some of the rest of us need to quit complaining and step up. Kansas City, Kansas has a very important assets within their city limits: LAND. Despite a fair number of naysayers, the Kansas Speedway, the Legends, Community America Ballpark, and Children’s Mercy Park were built in the last 15 years. I am guessing that many believe that these have been mostly successful. If KCMO can’t get approval to significantly bring MCI into the 21st Century, other municipalities (or a joint authority) should at least consider a competing option. It won’t be easy, but Kansas City is already operating two 24-hour airports. If somebody can come up with a plan that can be approved at another location, MCI could be closed, and we could finally stop arguing and pointing fingers at each other.

  25. Remington says:

    I’m hoping for a no vote only because the airport is forever away from me and everyone else who lives on the better side of the state line. A cab to downtown KC is ridiculous. Even Uber to South JOCO is $100. We’d much prefer the vote fail and allow us to build the terminal at New Century Air Center in Kansas.

    • Davey says:

      The distance to the airport for a city the size of Kansas City is absurd. The old pre-1971 was very nicely located but landlocked.

      The locational problem is a function of the state line, which is the same problem St. Louis has. The best place to build an airport probably is in Kansas, but the Missouri pols will never let that happen. Just like the probable best location for an airport in St. Louis is at Scott Air Force Base, but I promise that will never happen.

      The ultimate problem is that urban planners have a grandiose sense of what an airport can and will do. Build, they say, and everything will follow. If I lived in Kansas City, I probably would have voted no until I saw the plans, got the costs and the planners put a hard cap on the spending. They probably need a nice sized regional airport in Kansas City but left to urban planners, they’d get Hartsfield instead and the place would quickly become a ghost town.

  26. stan says:

    i flew to kansas city once. it was about 20 years ago. i ordered a gin and tonic in an airport bar and it was served in a PINT GLASS. yes, a PINT of G&T! and it was like $5.

    that’s all i got.

  27. Seanny says:

    The old terminal B at Sacramento was terrible (baggage claim in the check in area, anyone?) so it is weird to slam the new one as unneeded. The pre-train area may seem overbuilt, but it was built for a future concourse to be added as the metro area continues to grow. The bunny is quirky and doesn’t harm anyone.

    • CF says:

      Seanny – I don’t know anybody who would suggest that a new terminal wasn’t needed. The problem is Sacramento overspent on this absurd vision of grandeur. It was extremely expensive and set the airport back years in its efforts to grow service.

  28. Bfish says:

    Everything you say anout our current airport is true. Yes, we need a new airport for this firsr-rate, growing metropolis.The problem is the vote does not guarntee anything about a new airport. This vote gives carte blanch to a city government known for corruption.
    The only thing we know about the proposed plan is:
    A) It does not have enough gates to accommodate a growing metro. Yes, it is “expandable”, but why would we spend over a $billion dollars then have to turn around and expand a brand new airport? Who would pay for that? Bring a plan now large enough to grow into the next 40-50 years.
    B) THE SCHEME PUT FORRH ON THE BALLOT HAS NO SET PLAN. AFTER A YES VOTE THE CITIZENS COULD END UP WITH A BOONDOGGLE. Bring a plan now that has some guarantees the airport will be first-rate, not second fiddle. WE WANT MORE INFORMATION. Remeber, we are “The Show Me State”, and we take rhat to heart.
    So yes, there are certainly good reasons for the citizens to vote no next week and demand our $billion dollars buys us the best project possible.

  29. hk says:

    Looking at the layout around WN gates, they could make whole B40 to B45 area into airside. That will solve the restroom and cramped gate area issues. Also make whole area B32 to B34 into airside and relocate TSA. Small bathroom at B31 could go landside for those waiting in the baggage claim. Those who need to pass by can walk outside the terminal. Beside WN gates, local passengers must have been well educated to use bathroom before security, so I won’t worry much.

    This was just an opinion by me and I’ve never been to MCI airport….

  30. CD says:

    If this was Washington DC with it’s lifestyle and incomes maybe handing over KCI to a DC area corporation and slapping on God knows what “user fees” and “parking fee” increases wouldn’t be so impotant but here in the POORER “flyover zone” it will result in far less”local” flyers. It MAY be “more convienient” for the “coastal crowd” but SIGNING AN OPEN ENDED CONTRACT based on “GUESSTIMATES” AND “PROMISES” WITHOUT CONCRETE PLANS AND COSTS is something NO sensible homeowner would do…Then again politicians don’t see taking on billions in debt without guarantees as “a problem”. When both costs and hassles increase; the customers they believe will gladly pay the billions will go elsewhere. At that point the “fine print” will take over. No doubt, coastal flyers, The other regional airports, AMTRAK, bus services an hopefully the hyperloop will benefit the most from such a decision. Good luck – Glad I have OTHER OPTIONS.

  31. Gammyjill says:

    Yesterday I flew into MCI for the first time on a weekend visit to Kansas City. We flew AA. My initial reaction was the convenience to the street. My next reaction was that the airport looked like an airport built in Soviet Russia. We also waited almost 25 minutes for the rental car bus. We’re leaving tonight and I’m not looking forward to returning the rental car and then navigating the Brutalist airport.

  32. Greg S. says:

    Traveled through the KCI terminal a couple of years ago – not to be redundant, but they desperately need a new terminal. Sounds like the airport authority and backers of the new terminal need to do a marketing sales blitz before the election to get it passed, not focusing on the cost, but the future benefits to the community and all users. It is a proven fact that a great airport facility leads to more flights, and economic development around the airport and in the city. Just refer to all the airports that are trying to lure big $ international flights right now – MIA, DFW, SEA, etc.

    One advantage this project seems to have that many new airport projects don’t – no impact to current operations – even though they may not be ideal, they can continue at the current pace. And, there should be a seamless transition to the new terminal when construction is done.

  33. Jonathan R says:

    Breaking News:

    Looks like the vote to approve the new terminal has passed easily in Kansas City. As of 9:00pm CST, with 61% of precincts reporting, the vote to approve the new terminal is leading 3 to 1. The Kansas City Star newspaper has characterized the early results, “The vote to a approve a new terminal wins by a huge margin.”

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