If you were starting all over again and wanted to design the most convenient airport in America, what would you build?
I would build Kansas City International Airport, as it is, with a few modifications and updates.
That’s what I hope the 24-member KCI task force will conclude, although that is not likely. All the pressure is on them to ditch the current airport and to build a new one, with a new design, in a single terminal, at a cost of $1.2 billion.
Anyone who has visited any of the other major airports — or even not-so-major airports — in the United States, knows how convenient ours is, by comparison.
First, we can park across the street for a quick-park for a buck or so, while we wait inside the terminal, where we say an intimate goodbye near the gate.
We do not have to stand in a long, snaking line for security that takes forever. Because we have security at every gate, security time is minimal. Yes, it’s more expensive that way, but if it’s convenience we’re after as the priority, the dispersed security makes more sense.
No walking sidewalks at KCI. You can easily walk the short distance to your gate from wherever you happen to be, unless you have a very rare transfer of terminals.
Upon returning from your flight, you can be greeted warmly by whoever might be waiting for you just outside your gate. This sure beats the cold arrival at other airports, where you are greeted by no one because they cannot get close enough to your gate to greet you.
And then there’s baggage claim.
While our slow baggage claim needs upgrading the fact that you can walk two minutes to baggage claim is a joy. After you have retrieved your luggage, often with the help of those who greeted you at the gate, you walk a short distance to the car and off you go.
All of this contrasts with the nightmares elsewhere. It is an ordeal at other airports, cold and distant, dehumanizing, so — well — inconvenient, it makes you wonder why anyone would give all this up.
They say it would cost $600 million to bring the current airport up to speed. That will have to be proved. But even if it were true, that is half the cost of a new terminal.
What I think this comes down to mostly is prestige.
Community leaders are embarrassed by our airport because it lacks the glitz of other airports. It doesn’t give you a sense of modernity, of large masses of people, and it leaves you with the impression this is a small, not-so-up-to-date Kansas City.
But what a price to pay, to give up all that convenience for an image.
Granted, there are inefficiencies at our current airport, but no one yet has said these cannot be fixed. And as for the airlines, Southwest — by far the largest carrier at KCI — is “neutral” on the new, single-terminal configuration.
Advocates of a new single-terminal airport say they can design it so it remains convenient.
Yes, with a new airport, we can have better restaurants and more stores. The waiting areas near the gates would be more accessible to these amenities.
And, certainly, visitors who need to change planes or anyone spending hours stuck at our airport is not in for a treat, as it is now. But there are trade-offs. You can’t have it all.
Unless the task force and architects can perform a miracle, for $1.2 billion you can kiss our convenience goodbye.