With the New Terminal Approved, Southwest Sees Opportunity in Kansas City

On Tuesday, Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved a new single terminal at the airport. Though polls showed it could have been a nail-biter, it wasn’t. The residents came to their senses and decided to move forward. After my post last week talking about the situation, I spoke with Steve Sisneros, Senior Director of Airport Affairs for Southwest about what it would mean if the vote passed. Now that it has, here’s what residents can look forward to.

The problems with the old terminal were fairly obvious to an outsider. The buildings were incredibly narrow, and the requirement to install increasingly bulky security equipment made it really challenging to create a decent customer experience. Local passengers loved the ability to get dropped off at the door and walk just a few feet to get to the gate, but that’s just not a practical way to build an airport these days. The customer experience suffered, but sometimes, the airlines don’t care about that. In this case, they did.

Southwest is the largest airline at the airport, and it wants to do more. I’ll let Steve explain what has been holding the airline back.

Kansas City, geographically, is ideally situated mid-continent…. St Louis is a good comparison because it’s a similar size market and we specifically create what we call ICOs, “Intentional Connect Opportunities” where we create more schedules to create connecting opportunities…. In Kansas City we do have connecting flights but we just don’t have it to that degree [as in St Louis], so the way our head of commercial has described it is that we specifically throttle down [Kansas City] because the customer experience is so bad.

Airlines can operate in some pretty terrible facilities (see: LaGuardia), so that’s quite the indictment when an airline says it can’t operate more flights specifically because the terminal is such a mess. It’s not like there’s a shortage of gates, either. It just doesn’t function well enough to support Southwest’s desired operation.

Once the new terminal opens, Southwest will have the greenlight to grow further. St Louis might not like that.

We specifically flow more over St Louis from a mid-continent geographic perspective than we do over Kansas City, and that’s done purposefully. We have probably 25 to 30 more flights in St Louis than [Kansas City] because of that.

Well heck, how could the voters not have approved? Some were concerned that Southwest wouldn’t actually commit to adding 25 to 30 more flights. By the time the terminal opens, who knows what the environment will be like, so that’s fair. No airline can commit to something that specific several years down the line. But this is as clear of a signal as I’ve seen that Southwest will grow.

What might those additional flights look like?

There are some markets where the local market won’t support it, say Seattle. We may serve it nonstop from [Kansas City] during the summer but not the winter. But if you have connections that flow over [Kansas City], that may turn that seasonal Seattle nonstop into year-round.

It’s also not just the number of flights, but the size of the airplane. As of now, Steve says that Southwest isn’t intentionally holding back larger 175-seat 737-800s and MAX 8s. But as the fleet mix continues to shift toward those larger airplanes from the smaller 143-seat 737-700s, it will need to hold back bigger airplanes until the terminal opens.

Some were concerned about the price tag (including some comments in last week’s post). Southwest says the price tag isn’t out of line here. If it were a proverbial “Taj Mahal,” Southwest wouldn’t be supporting this. Even though a billion dollars sounds like a lot, there are many things to help offset that cost. Thanks to the cramped nature of the facility today, Steve notes that “Kansas City has one of the lowest concession programs in the country” in terms of revenue generated. A new terminal will change that and start to fill the coffers. With cost per enplanement pegged to about $9 once this is done, the airlines aren’t overly concerned.

A few locals may still not be happy that this means the end of the short walk from car to gate, but they can take solace in one huge improvement. Kansas City still does not have an inline baggage system today, so if you check your bag, you have to lug it over to a scanner from the ticket counter after getting it tagged. The new facility will fix all that.

Congratulations to everyone in Kansas City for making the right choice. Now… the long process to build the terminal can finally begin.

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42 Comments on "With the New Terminal Approved, Southwest Sees Opportunity in Kansas City"

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John Ranalletta
Guest

Remember using current terminal when it was just opened, flying Royal airlines, 6-passenger twins from MCI to MHK. Seemed like acres of clear space in Terminal C at the time.

Kevin
Guest

And there was. Planes were smaller and less empty in the past. In 1972 the average plane had 42 passengers. Today, it’s 104. So the terminal is going to have 250% the number of people it did 45 years ago. The rate passenger numbers are going up the convenience factor was rapidly going away on it’s own.

Kevin
Guest

correction, *more* empty. Planes were 50% full in 1972, 80% full now.

Mark
Member

I fly in and out of that place once or twice a year. It’s a nightmare. Don’t I remember this being an Eastern Airlines hub? Anyway, I am glad to see the residents realize that this was pretty much no brainer. I don’t see how the current situation is sustainable.

Kilroy
Guest

Given the rivalry and tensions between Kansas City and St Louis, on opposite sites of the state, this definitely sounds like a win-win-win for KC. Not only do they get a better airport and likely better service, but in doing so there is a good chance that they will be sticking it to St. Louis.

mwa459
Guest

Um okay not sure why WN has any problems with STL.

ChuckMO
Guest

They don’t really, the layout in STL T2 works well for them but as an STL based flyer there are times when the concession areas have lines a mile long. They’ve expanded down the old D concourse and they have plenty of room for expansion, but MCI was a mess for connections. I don’t see STL losing anything with a new MCI terminal, but they will probably use MCI for more connections, adding yet another “hub” to the system. Especially with MDW becoming constrained.

Kevin MINGE
Guest

STL will not lose anything. In fact, KC people need to realize that a new airport does not equal new flights. They need to get over their second rate egos.

Jonathan R
Guest

“They need to get over their second rate egos.”

Not gonna happen until St. Louis people get over the ’85 World Series.

adamsgb
Member

1) does this mean the end of rumors of a 2d KC area commercial airport in southern Johnson County Kansas where a decent % of MCI users actually live? I suspect many would prefer that over longish trek to far north Jackson County MO.

2) as a KC native but longtime resident of New Orleans this is interesting. After yrs of semi-successful renovations to MSY, NO is building a completely new terminal on opposite (north) side of the field. Any comments on it? Process? Comparison to MCI?

Thx/enjoy reading your blog

GB Adams

Kyle Rohde
Guest

Yes, it’s hard to see how operating two different facilities in a metro area of 2 million people would make any sense for the airlines. Not to mention, Kansas has no money to put a couple billion dollars into an airport that will be needed anymore. Not to mention, Kansas has no money to put billions of dollars into an airport that there’s no need for after this decision. Remember, they would need far more than a new terminal-they would need all the access roads, parking garage, runways, and all the other infrastructure besides the terminal itself.

Kevin
Guest

$10-20 billion is likely. Remember they need a few billion just for roads and infrastructure to support one. KCI has to do none of this to rebuild.

Kevin
Guest
KC priced a new terminal to the south of the runways. The road work alone made it unaffordable. The 2009 documents mentioning this planning can be found on the airport website, scroll to the very bottom of the home page and find the terminal master plan page. It’s there at the bottom Any new terminal in Kansas will be just as far away for most people in Kansas. Remember, the airport is 8 square miles and you have to put a new one somewhere you can get a road to so that’s your large farming areas SW of the metro.… Read more »
Chris
Guest

never mind

A
Guest
If I understood correctly a vote yes costs the voter nothing if they never step foot on an airplane at MCI. Seems kind of a no-brainer in that sense and not surprised the outcome. I’m not local to KC but knowing how these things go the building trades do lobby hard for these too. Not a lot of construction opportunities in the $1B range outside major sports stadiums, airports and Vegas casinos. I still take issue with the idea it will somehow make KC a hub airport. Last week I mentioned the proximity to much larger hubs and if history… Read more »
Gary Peters
Member

Great to hear! Thanks for providing the context of the issue prior to the vote. Gary

[cid:image001.png@01D3593E.FB043E00] NOTICE: Information contained in this transmission to the named addressee is proprietary information and is subject to attorney-client privilege and work product confidentiality. If the recipient of this transmission is not the named addressee, the recipient should immediately notify the sender and destroy the information transmitted without making any copy or distribution thereof.

Eric Morris
Guest

I am immediately notifying the sender that standard disclaimers, especially at the end, carry little weight.

Miss Informed
Guest
I would hope the powers that be in Kansas City and vicinity have learned their lesson about building facilities to please one airline. The cluster of WN focus cities in the area make it possible to shift traffic around depending on costs or whatever other conditions prevail. MCI will be under a lot of pressure to keep its costs low in spite of building its new facility. Absolutely nothing comes cheap these days. There’s also a lot of history to be considered. The current MCI terminal has hosted hubs or mini-hubs for a number of airlines that haven’t survived. I… Read more »
steve
Guest

Congrats on the upgrade but I’m not sure I see the path to success here either. Not enough local traffic, and nothing changes in that MCI is a pain in the butt location for biz travelers and/or locals. Being well located and having a nice terminal isn’t necessarily enough (see CVG)

Kevin
Guest

Southwest was the voice of all the airlines. We’ve known this for a couple years now.

SirWired
Guest

I don’t see anything Southwest-specific about this new facility. Looks like it’ll be more-comfortable and usable for all.

Tim Dunn
Member

thanks for the follow-up.
MCI might not be a full-size hub but WN is saying that with better facilities it can expand service including adding flights that need some connecting traffic because they wouldn’t survive just on local traffic.
There is a good chance that MCI will get some additional service not just from WN but from other carriers.
The vote is a positive step to increasing air service and says that cost-neutral projects to the community and which airlines back should be pursued.

controller1
Member

Excellent news. Kansas City has always been such a pain that I would try to avoid business trips to the area. If others did the same, that couldn’t have been good for the Kansas City area’s economy.

ANCJason
Guest

I did SFO-MCI-MKE on Midwest (after the F9 merger, all E-175’s) and I remember the small three-gate connecting room being so cramped and hot in March (and I had two small children so it really sucked). The only concession was a small stand that sold cold sandwiches. I’m glad MCI is receiving a well needed upgrade.

Eric in ICT
Guest

Good on KC voters for making a smart choice for the future of MCI and their community. Much-needed improvements and anytime Southwest talks about growth like that is a good thing. One comment on WN’s STL operation; while it’s fairly new and airy terminal, my experience is that it doesn’t have enough amenities, either. Lines for restrooms, Starbucks, etc., in STL are always long and there seems to be plenty of opportunities and demand for more concessions there as well.

SSpiffy
Guest

I have family in mid-Missouri, a bit closer to KC than STL, but I drive the extra miles from STL just to avoid MCI. I’m looking forward to that new terminal smell.

grichard
Guest

I wonder how much Southwest will now be able to play St Louis and Kansas City off against each other to extract concessions from their airports/governments.

ChuckMO
Guest

WN is well established in both so I don’t think there will be much “playing off” between the two. MCI will probably see some increased service, but not at any real expense of STL. STL still has the stronger O&D.

Ben+in+DC
Guest
I noticed the cost concern comments with your last article and think people just overly simplifying the project. For the amount of work being done, it doesn’t seem frivolous. They have to tear down not only an old terminal, but a parking garage, to make room for the new facility. I’m sure the old terminal has things like asbestos, which add to the demolition costs. Then they have to build the new terminal AND a new parking garage. Also factor in the fact that the cost of building materials has soared over the last 15 years and you can see… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member

Ben,
progress isn’t cheap or easy but Americans are extraordinarily gifted people. There are hundreds of shopping centers and stadiums that are being torn down and replaced so an airport terminal certainly seems within the scope of what America can successfully pull off.
And Missouri and Kansas will benefit from the construction project even if the benefit is for air travelers and airlines that will foot the bill.
Seems to me to be a win-win-win infrastructure project that is well within the capabilities of Americans to do well.

Ben+in+DC
Guest

Tim, I guess I should have done a better job clarifying. I support the project and thought the criticism of the price tag by some in a previous Cranky post was off-base. I don’t think the price is outrageous and was trying to explain why I think it will cost more than $1 billion. I think this terminal will be a great thing for travelers and the people of Kansas City.

Tim Dunn
Member

ok…. I think everyone agrees that want functional far more than extravagant and I think nice can be done at a reasonable price. This shouldn’t be an expensive project and the people of Missouri and Kansas will benefit during construction and in the future.
Also, construction prices in the Midwest are a lot cheaper than in the NE.

Kilroy
Guest

Good point. Cheaper land, less traffic for hauling materials/debris to/from the site, and cheaper labor (even if it’s still required to be union labor for a public works project like this; not sure if that’s the case in KC, but I know it is in the Northeast) really help construction prices in the Midwest and Southeast.

> Also, construction prices in the Midwest are a lot cheaper than in the NE.

Andy
Member

I lived in KC for 30+ years before moving to the northeast. Never realized what a dump MCI was until I started flying back 4-5 times a year for family visits. (From PWM – what a great airport that is). As MCI stands today, there is no room for improvement and it gives visitors a bad impression of KC (which really is a great city). So glad to read I’ll be flying into a new airport in 2021!

DaninMCI
Guest
Being a frequent flyer out of STL and MCI I can disagree with some of the statements. Currently I live in KC and I’m able to “Park” my car (not in the expensive garage which is much closer) but the regular circle lots and walk about 100 yards to the ticket counters and TSA checkpoints. Southwest might be different but AA, Spirit, Frontier, United all have regular counters to check bags where you hand the bag to them and they tag it. you don’t have to take it to a scanner station (STL does do that). The changes they’ve made… Read more »
Jonathan R
Guest
DaninMCI – The amount of glass in the artist’s renderings stand a reasonably good chance likely of being an exaggeration of the amount of glass in the ultimate physical terminal. The airport was pushed for by the KC mayor and city council largely in response to the airlines. Locals outside of the city limits (in Missouri and Kansas) certainly attempted to foist their opinions, but it was the airlines that drove elected city leaders into action more than anything or anyone else. They bought into the idea of economic growth being a likely result of a modern more airline-friendly terminal… Read more »