Keith Chrostowski

Debate over KCI flies fast and hard

Updated: 2013-05-15T03:20:20Z

By KEITH CHROSTOWSKI

The Kansas City Star

Jeers and cheers.

Reaction to my last column allowing that the advocates of a new single terminal at KCI might have a decent case was certainly bracing.

Most of the more than 100 callers, emailers and kansascity.com commenters batted me roundly about. But many others allied themselves with the single-terminal advocates.

The best point made by opponents and those still-undecided is that the advocates haven’t yet put forth a possible yet credible alternative upgrade to KCI.

A good renovation that solves some of the problems of the three-terminal design probably can be done for a good deal less than the expected $1.2 billion price tag of a new terminal.

Comparing a well-done renovation with a sharp new single terminal would be the best way argue out the pros and cons and let each side rebut and refute talking points and projections. It would provide a clear choice less vulnerable to p.r. and spin and all in all educate voters.

Three other points:

• The advocates’ contention that a new terminal would attract more flights, especially direct flights desired by business travelers, is problematic at best. An A1 story in The Star on Sunday found that new terminals in other cities didn’t increase traffic. Airline consolidation is a bigger factor in the dropping number of flights. Take a look at this Wall Street Journal story.

• As for the $1.2 billion cost, Kansas Citians take into account that the bonds for the new terminal would be paid off from taxes on airlines and fees on fliers. And that a big part of that would come from travelers from...Kansas!

• And here’s something I’ve wondered for years: If the design of KCI is so successful, how come no new airport built anywhere has duplicated it?

Now, on to the back-and-forth arguments from commenters. There sure was lot of talk about KCI’s bathrooms.

Comments been edited for sense and space. Some comments that didn’t make the cut have been added to the online version at kansascity.com. Names have been initialized to protect the innocent.

• 

I think the paying public wants more direct flights perhaps even international flights. Would a new airport bring more direct flights to KC? (For sure??) I would think more direct flights would depend on more people flying out of or in to KC. Will a new airport increase the numbers of flight passengers?

I believe the paying public, flying or not, needs to be assured we will get something for a new airport. If I can think of ways to solve or ameliorate the problems (at KCI), I am sure far more intelligent people in the KC Transportation Department could make them less onerous.

Let’s not get dressed up for a fancy ball when no ones comes. — M.S.

I know of a company leaving Kansas City and one reason was the ineffectiveness of the airport, its representation to their international and national clients and their inability to get more and more flights to to regions they needed to go to...Those of us who travel for business know about the ineffectiveness of the airport in Kanas City. I think you would find many people in the Overland Park area who would support a new airport. — J.E.

It appears that many of the voices preferring the current airport aren’t really travelers, are too fat to walk a few more feet to the gate, and don’t have any real idea as to what the end state of a new airport would look like. — T.R.

I find it hard to believe that with the ingenuity being at hand in the Kansas City area, that an upgrade or renovation could not be undertaken to modernize KCI for perhaps about half the cost of a new airport. But that would likely take a lot of thought and planning. Instead, let’s just build a new airport. After all, it is not hard to spend money when it is not your own.

Now if I were to read that a city council member or the KCI airport manager that is always being quoted in the Star, were to come out and publicly state that they feel so strongly about building a new KCI airport that they would write a personal check for say $50,000 to get things rolling — that would impress me. — G.M.

Frequent traveler out of KCI (weekly). Pros — park close to the terminal (Well, except now that A is basically closed the B garage is full half the time. Cross that one off.) Convenient — easy to get in and out (Well, unless you are flying on Southwest during early morning or on the weekends when check-in has a 30-minute wait and security the same. So cross that one off.) Amenities? What a joke. Has anyone been to the new Love Field terminal? Wow. That’s what we could have here....I hope the citizens of KC show the same vision they did with P&L, Sprint Center, the Zoo, and the stadiums and get behind a new airport. As a JoCo resident, I can’t vote. If I could I’d say build a new airport closer to me and JoCo would vote 85 percent in favor of it. But for now let’s show some vision and get this done. — O.G.

The column implies that the limitations of the current setup — it’s layout, efficiency, appearance, etc. — are responsible for the decline in air traffic. What is the evidence supporting that argument? I thought air traffic was governed by demand, and decisions to expand or consolidate facilities were made based on changes in air traffic volume. It seems simplistic to argue that “if you build it, they will come.” A more efficient way to attract new business to town is to offer tax incentives.

I am not arguing for or against a new terminal, but simply pointing out that some of the arguments in favor are weak. — M.J.

Kansas City, Mo., is a nice city, but the airport is an embarrassment to the city. It’s crowded (or there is nobody there), depending on what part of the airport you are using, there are no services at all....Restrooms are a disaster, baggage claim areas are super tiny. I can not think of a single thing about MCI that actually gives you any sort of positive impression about KC. I know when I visit KC, my last impression of the town is what a cruddy country bumpkin airport.

...Some of the newer terminals out there are very nice and they don’t have the scary TSA lines and 10-mile walks that everybody in KC seems to be scared of....

MCI is turning into a commuter airport and that’s not good for your city. Having to connect at Denver or DFW for half of your flights because that’s where most your flights go now. How is that better than walking for five minutes to your gate. Let’s see, a five-minute longer walk and a 2-hour connection at a real airport or a 1-minute walk to your tiny, cow pen gates so you can catch what few flights you have left. Bizarre town. — W.C.

The airport is fine. Is it the best, no, worst no. But it serves its purpose. It is fast to get in and out. It works for our community. There are more important issues KC needs to fix, the airport is low. Sales tax in the region is too high, schools are a mess, food is taxed at one of the highest rates in the US. Proponents are politicians and contractors that see a huge payday. Our goal should be to make KC more affordable and family friendly, not looking to spend more public money. — R.N.

As someone who has no personal connection to KCI, I have to say it is one of my least favorite airports that I regularly visit. Flying in and getting out to a car is never a problem, but when waiting for flights in the late afternoon there is often no place to sit and the lines for a bathroom can be ridiculous. When transferring flights at KCI I simply pray that there is no significant gate change. On one occasion I missed my connecting flight because of a snafu moving through a security line after having to change gates.

While the opinions of an out-of-towner may not hold sway with everyone, it will be the people that use the airport that actually pay for the bonds. KCI has already lost a substantial part of my business because of the organization and lack of services within the airport. — R.D.

...If Kansas City wants to compete for business and jobs, they need to upgrade KCI. I travel fairly frequently to the East and West coasts and all over for vacations. KCI is so inconvenient. There is the security thing — if you want anything you have to leave the secure area and then go back through security.

The little kiosks in the gate areas don’t cut it. You can’t walk around and if you could, there is nothing to look at. Other airports have well-lit space and shops to enjoy, all inside the secure area.

Once you are in the KCI gate areas, it is so crowded that you are constantly tripping over someone’s carry-on luggage or being rammed by a stroller the size of a VW Bug. The baggage handling is woefully out of date. What good does it do to be able to get from the plane to the luggage carousel in three minutes if you have to stand there and wait 30-40 minutes for the luggage to come up? When I visit my daughter in Philadelphia, I am at the baggage claim in 10 minutes and so is my luggage! The parking garage is right across the street accessible by an overhead walkway. ..If people who think getting off the plane and darting out the door right to their car is so convenient, they must be paying top dollar to park right in front of their gate. — B.H.

It would have been nice if they gave both sides of the debate and brought in more of the facts. Like KCI keeps being rated as one of the best medium size airports in the country. Or the fact that the reason Kansas City is not a hub is because St. Louis is a hub for American Airlines and the odds that we are ever going to become airport hubs is about the same as the Sprint Center getting a professional hockey or basketball team anytime soon.

...The article talked about KCI like it has not been improved again and again. Do I need to remind the people of Kansas City that the most recently renovations was approved less than 10 years ago, with a price tag of $258 Million and the construction just finished up a few years ago... — C.

Right on. KCI is a dump. As a former Kansas Citian, I get the whole drop off at the gate thing...always great for locals and the person dropping or picking up, but inside is a joke, particularly after passing through security. Gotta go to the bathroom?? Try one of the glorified port a potties that you share with 150 others inside security! The smell is unbearable. You’re lucky that there are any paper towels. Your flight delayed and you want to grab a bite?? You’ll love the day old sandwich that’s been sitting at room temp at the Kiosk (NEXT TO THE INADEQUATE, FILTHY BATHROOM!). ...Enjoy OLD KCI folks...In Minneapolis, I can choose from over 50 restaurants within the secured zone and move about. — J.L.

...I have used the bathrooms in the security area many times — they are never crowded or dirty/smelly....

There are very few transfers in KC and never will be because we are a medium-sized cow town...People here don’t linger long enough to eat full meals like that and if they do they can eat outside of the security line.

For the one-fourth of 1 percent of travelers who do want to eat a full meal I think they can manage — after all they only walked a few steps to get to the gate. Have you ever been to one of these wonderful huge places like ORD or JFK — a nightmare of stress. And the powers that be in those towns are not so insecure about their airports that they have to gussy them up just to make a nice impression.

Former mayor Cleaver said it best — TOURISTY FROU FROU. Listen to the people and call off this dog. — P.

So is this part of the PR campaign they were talking about? IS THIS PART OF THE “SALES PROCESS” THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT? Is this where “THEY” start “planting” stories like this to try to sway public opinion? Is this where they start making fun of the public, saying we have a silly “love affair” ?

YEAH, WE HEARD THIS PR STUFF WOULD BE COMING, TRYING TO “SELL US” THIS PLAN.

We don’t need a new airport, but apparently some construction companies, labor unions and PR companies need some money, and (to them) ruining our great airport is as good a way as any to get it.

LEAVE KCI ALONE! It is the best airport anywhere!

And finally it is NOT A LOVE AFFAIR, it is the fact of how easy our airport is to use. —M.W.

I don’t travel by air much anymore since the TSA Stormtroopers have made it such a miserable experience, but I do know good business and I know it is time for an upgrade. I am getting tired though of the same old arguments against it.

“It’s so convenient...just steps from the gate to the door.”

Looking around this town at some of the fat bottoms, it won’t kill you to walk a little. For those of you that just can’t get around for long distances under your own power, I am sure there are some people movers in the final design.

“It’s too much money.”

Airline travel is a multi-billion dollar industry and it doesn’t stop with the airlines. If airlines are going to get a return on their investment, while providing reasonably decent service, they should have first class facilities in which to conduct business. If the facilities are up to date, it helps them run their business more efficiently and that makes the cost of doing business more reasonable.

“It’s foolish to spend that much for sake of security and shopping.”

OK..let’s just get rid of all the security or revert to vending machines inside each gate.. For the full time traveler, the odds of being on a troubled flight increase and though the TSA can make it pretty unpleasant, they aren’t going away and the full time travelers are entitled to the comfort of a decent meal when they have time to enjoy one between flights without going in and out of the security hassle. Airports aren’t intended for just the weekend traveler.

I could mention more answering the charges of corruption and egotism, but they are just dumb, Somebody is going to make some money out of the thing or it wouldn’t be good business,

But hey...for those of you wanting a compromise, consider this...here is the deal:

We keep the current airport, flaws and all and we keep non-flyers out of the airport. You don’t have a ticket? You don’t get inside the door. Yes..no big parties for welcoming home the military or sports teams, no taking mom, dad, the kids, uncles, cousins, neighbors all out to KCI just to meet Grandma’s plane. You have to eat before you leave the house and in order to keep the line moving, be prepared to submit, with no objection to anything no matter how indignant the TSA wants..and I mean everything..no holding up the line just because your little precious turns on the waterworks. No complaining when the airport traffic officers tell you to move when you stop for more than “just a minute” in those pesky no extended parking loading zones.....

...and in another 10, 20, maybe 30 years of band-aid patches down the road, you’ll be ready for a change. —D.T.

Out of towners who come to KC love our airport — you get off the plane and walk a few steps to get your luggage which is typically there in 10 minutes. Then you walk outside and catch your ride. Why would you be apologizing...or are you someone who is always apologizing for Kansas City? Compare that to airports where you get to get off the plane, walk down the terminal corridor and under a runway (I’ve done it), get to the luggage carousel only to wait for your bags. — M.

I’m going to see how many thumbs down votes I can get:

All you KCI lovers are dinosaurs and need to wake up to the 21st century! KCI SUCKS! We need a real airport, not this ancient concrete ugliness that spreads everyone out and traps you by your gate. — J.

As a person that uses the airport 2 or 3 times a month, I can’t wait until the new airport opens. Delays are the worst. Two weeks ago the lock on the stall was broken and the other toilet was overflowing in the secure zone. When you have hundreds of people using two stalls there is no way to keep them operational. Usually at least once a month there are so many people crammed inbetween two gates waiting to board that people can’t get off the plane. Southwest can’t add more flights because they are out of gates, which is sad because we have so many empty gates. If we had a single terminal we would have several flex gates so the airlines could expand as necessary during peak times.

KCI was last remodled in 2004. We were promised 20 years. It will take at least 5 more years for a new airport. That will get us pretty close to the 20 years promised. And no I am not a shill or a PR person, I just fly a lot and want a decent airport that works. — T.D.K.

The column was one-sided on purpose. Previous stories have already been devoted to the no-side. This article was attempting to provide the yes-side and a commentary on both. The article was fine. And KCI was a hub in the past, but that failed and given the current situation, won’t be a hub again anytime soon. — M.

I fly in and out of KCI about a dozen times a year. I have never been offended by the bathrooms inside security. Dining is limited to the sandwich and drink place which is fine with me because getting through security has never taken more than 10 minutes including the pat down I always get due to my artificial knee. Usually, I can walk right up to that first station where they check your id and ticket.

Just my experiences. Yours may be different. — R.D.

It’s been my experience that anyone that I have picked up or dropped off at KCI are in awe at how convenient and easy it is to get in and out of KCI. I have flown through many airports in this country, and none can compete with it.

People in the Kansas City area that travel through KCI are there to travel and not “party or shop” at the airport.

KCI is not a shopping mall; it’s an airport. Consolidate the terminals. Use terminal “A” for something other than a terminal.

Shut down one more terminal and you would have the single terminal concept. Have you seen how little traffic actually goes through KCI? — E.A.

Please tell us what hope a single-terminal KCI would have for being a hub airport when St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Memphis and Pittsburgh have all lost hub status, or have lost a high percentage of nonstop flights through airline consolidation.

What evidence do you have that Kansas City’s ticket prices will go down with a single terminal design?

How many passengers currently connect at KCI, and how many of those are forced to change terminals or go through security in Kansas City in order to reach the connecting gate? — K.P.

From the column; “You couldn’t blame executives for thinking they’ve landed in a smallish city. And for having a small grain of doubt entering their calculations about moving here.”

We’re not top 10 or top 20, we’re the 30th ranked market in size. They know how big or small we are. The executive that does not appreciate the time savings and efficiency over fake “bigness” is not the sort of executive we want as his or her company will not be around for long. — S.K.

Glad to see there are groups interested in doing something with the airport here. There are too many business travelers that come through that hate KCI. The only thing good about KCI is the fact that there are rarely any big crowds. Otherwise, they need to at least step into the 80’s. — O.T.

I’m trying to imagine executives who could bring significant jobs landing at KCI. What kind of executive in charge of that decision flies commercial? — T.

As a frequent user of KCI, multiple trips each month, I could not agree less with the proposal to build a new single terminal airport in Kansas City.

The first thing that should be examined is the demographics of the people using the airport. It is overwhelming locals. We have one priority, getting in and out of the airport as quickly as possible. The current KCI delivers that convenience.

Next, it is not realistic to think any executive would rule out Kansas City as a location for business based on the impression the airport delivers. Look instead to the deteriorating infrastructure of the city, the abyssmal ratings of the Kansas City school district, and the lack of civic pride that is revealed in the amount of trash/litter found on the highways and streets of Kansas City.

Lastly, while there may be instances where you may have to go through the screening process more than once, you still proceed through this quicker in Kansas City than in most other airports. — D.H.

The current MCI is an embarrassment. As a very frequent flyer I find myself appologizing frequently to out of towners for the horrible conditions at this airport. This airport does not even rank well some small town air terminals. We will never have even a remote chance for hub type flights until the situation is resolved. For the once a year traveler todays MCI probably works OK. For those that fly for a living, MCI it is horrible. Sometimes it reminds one of a third world airport. The layout is probably the worst airport of any major city. — MT.

To reach Keith Chrostowski, business editor of The Star, call 816-234-4466 or send email to chrostowski@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/keithc3.

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