Carolyn Baruch of Overland Park went to Kansas City International Airport recently to pick up her mother-in-law and encountered a situation that’s becoming all too frequent and frustrating.
The garage across from Terminal B was full, so she ran inside while her husband kept driving.
“And he just kept circling around and around. But if you’re by yourself, what do you do?” Baruch asked, noting that cars can’t wait at the curb for an incoming passenger.
It’s one of those problems that may not find a true solution for years, as city officials and airlines sort out a plan for either a new single terminal or reconfigured terminals at the airport.
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So for now, KCI officials have come up with a stopgap fix for a jammed parking lot: valet parking.
The service, scheduled to begin in late August or early September, would be aimed at business travelers who currently park all day or for days in the garage. They will be able to pull up to the curb and get out with their bags, and a valet will take the car to another location — probably the garage next to Terminal A, which is closed.
“We have to address the Terminal B parking garage,” Aviation Director Mark VanLoh told a gathering of the South Kansas City and Grandview chambers of commerce last week. “It’s full and it cannot be extended.”
VanLoh told the group that negotiations with the airlines for future airport improvements are progressing, but are probably at least a year away from resolution. And even then, major work is several years off.
In the meantime, overcrowding in the Terminal B garage is a big pet peeve that airport officials hear about all the time.
The valet parking wouldn’t be designed for people just wanting to pick up relatives, but Aviation Department spokesman Joe McBride said about 40 percent of cars in the garage remain more than four hours or overnight. If business travelers will avail themselves of the valet service, it should provide more spaces for short-term parkers.
“That will free up space for the meeters, greeters and well-wishers,” McBride said.
The exact price isn’t yet set but may be about $27 per day, not much higher than the $22 per day cost for the B garage.
The garage has 2,006 parking spaces and is often full from midday Monday through Thursday morning, or has only limited spaces available. For example, last week on Wednesday afternoon at 2:15 p.m., the lot was full. By 3:10 p.m. it had 53 spaces available, but at 4:15 p.m. only 22 spaces were open.
By comparison, the C garage had more than 600 spaces available on Wednesday afternoon.
People heading to the airport can check the FlyKCI.com website for the parking map, which shows the space availability at any given time.
Critics suspect the Aviation Department caused the overcrowding by deliberately assigning the busiest airlines together in Terminal B, in order to push for a new airport terminal. But both VanLoh and McBride say that was not the case. They attribute the situation to airline mergers and acquisitions, with the airlines dictating where those merged carriers ended up.
The parking space shortage became more apparent after April 2009, when Delta and Northwest merged. Terminal B had the gate space, configuration and baggage equipment systems that could accommodate that additional passenger load, so Northwest moved from C to B. Then Southwest merged with AirTran in 2011, and AirTran moved from A to B. So now, Terminal B houses the two largest carriers, with 60 percent of Kansas City’s market share.
Southwest also has increased its appeal to business travelers in recent years, and many of them choose to park in the close-in garage rather than in the airport’s long-term economy lots, which are farther from the terminals.
Spirit Airlines is coming to KCI and begins service Aug. 7, but it will be in Terminal C, so that should not worsen the situation.
Some people have asked why the Aviation Department can’t just build more spaces on the Terminal B garage, but McBride said the valet service is worth trying as a much less expensive and quicker solution to the parking shortage. If it is a winner with customers and succeeds financially, it could be expanded to Terminal C.
Aviation engineers say adding spaces to the Terminal B garage would be an expensive and cumbersome proposition and would require shutting the garage down for many months to deal with the construction.
McBride also noted that if drivers are just coming to KCI to pick up friends or relatives, they have the option of going to the designated “cellphone” waiting area in the Economy Lot C, where they can park for up to two hours at no charge before heading to the terminal to pick up passengers.
Although many people leave their cars for multiple days in the terminal garages, KCI has a cheaper option in its economy lots, with thousands of spaces about five minutes from the terminals. Cost for the economy lots is $7 per day. And private companies also provide inexpensive long-term parking.
Any significant updates to KCI, whether major renovations or a new terminal, are likely years away. The Aviation Department is holding closed-door discussions every two weeks with its air carriers, and those negotiations are expected to continue at least until April 2015, and possibly until April 2016.
Then any proposed major improvements would need to be ratified by Kansas City voters.
VanLoh told the chamber groups that once a concept is approved, it would probably take 18 months to two years to complete the design, and construction would then likely take two to three years.