The middle-aged man was standing near me at the baggage carousel at Kansas City International Airport last week. We waited a brief time before our luggage appeared, which, by the way, was only a matter of paces from the gate, not at the end of moving walkways.
The man said to me: “I travel all over, all the time, and you know what? This is the greatest airport in the world.”
There you have it.
KCI is probably the most convenient airport for any major city on the planet. You can enter KCI and get to your gate in a matter of minutes with short security lines and you can get out of the airport with your luggage to your car in no time flat.
We can boast that you can say goodbye at the gate or welcome someone just outside the gate. And who can beat the easy parking, plus no ultra-rush at curbside to let out a passenger?
And yet, business leaders just testified to the mayor’s task force — dubbed the Airport Terminal Advisory Group — that KCI is bush league, gives a lousy impression to visitors and even costs us lost business dollars because we are an embarrassment to those business executives looking to relocate or expand here.
Granted, KCI currently may give a bad image, but it would have to be proved to me that we are losing or have lost business because of the configuration of our airport. And with an expenditure of half as much as a new, single terminal, the current terminals could become much more presentable.
The critical issue for businesses is the number of nonstops available. KCI could always use more nonstop flights, but apparently the current number is working.
The promise of additional flights at KCI with a new terminal is a fairy tale. So say major airlines like Southwest, which have declared they would not add flights with a new terminal and warned that higher ticket prices would result from a new billion dollar-plus terminal which would not make them happy.
The task force will come up with its recommendation in April, a foregone conclusion that we should start over on a single-terminal and dump the ones we’ve got.
And it is all but assured that any such change would require approval of a majority of voters in Kansas City. Voters will have to consider several issues:
• Should an airport be constructed primarily for the convenience of the citizens of the community it serves, or should the main consideration be the image to outside travelers?
My answer would be the same, I suspect, as the vast majority of voters. It should serve its constituent population first, outsiders second.
• Should centralized security be the priority? Or should the convenience of having multiple security stations be the priority? I would choose the convenience, as I think most voters would.
• Should the need for a sit-down restaurant be a high priority? It would be nice, certainly, but the current situation is not a deal-killer if it means giving up the rest of the convenience. Besides, with a little imagination, a refurbished KCI might handle a sit-down restaurant, not to mention improved restroom facilities inside the gate areas.
The voters who see it this way — plus the citizens who never fly and therefore would have little reason to vote yes — will likely swamp the polls with “no” votes, if the single terminal goes on the ballot.
It is not that voters are backward or narrow-minded. They are spoiled.
Like the fellow standing next to me at the baggage carousel knows, people who have done much traveling know what it is like to stand in long security lines, queued up like Disneyland. They know what a hassle an airport experience can be because nearly all of them are pure torture.
Come hell or high water, citizens of this metro area will fight to keep their uniquely convenient airport. They just love it.
Let’s spruce up the current KCI and hang out a sign on every gate: “Welcome to the most convenient airport in the world.”