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Great airport switch ends in mad rush

DATE OF EVENT: Friday, Nov. 10, 1972

DATE PUBLISHED: Saturday, Nov. 11, 1972, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: By the 1960s, the proximity of tall buildings to the downtown Municipal Airport was increasingly viewed as hazardous. The land in Platte County that TWA used for its overhaul base seemed to be the perfect solution, and Mid-Continent airport was transformed into Kansas City International with a trendsetting “drive-to-your-gate” design. Like citizens and shops, air traffic had found a home in the suburbs, 17 miles from downtown.

The Municipal Air Terminal ended 44 years as Kansas City’s major air facility last night as Kansas City International Airport led the city into a new era of air service.

The transfer of operations was long and complicated, but the massive job was accomplished smoothly and methodically, thanks to some 2,000 airline and city employees who worked from 5 p.m. to after midnight.

When a Trans World Airlines jet loaded with city dignitaries lifted off the old airport’s runway at 11:45 p.m. it left behind little more than the shell of the terminal building. The airport, until now noisy with the roar of engines, the greetings of friends and the bustle of human activity, was almost silent. The few persons who remained behind were accompanied by the echoes of their own footsteps, unmuffled by furniture or crowds.

When the special jet arrived at KCI just a few minutes later, it was greeted by the noise of progress as workmen and airline employees hurried to complete the moving job before today’s onslaught of passengers.

The first official incoming flight at KCI was at 1:34 a.m. However, flights were arriving at the new terminal as early as 9 p.m. After deplaning, the passengers and their baggage were bused back to the old airport, which until midnight was the official end of the line.

Throughout the evening business continued at Municipal. Between 9 p.m. and midnight almost 40 airplanes took off or landed on the old runway. Besides the regular customers, many Kansas Citians walked through the terminal for one last look.

A fleet of vans, trailers, minibuses, rental trucks, station wagons and pickups moved at a fast pace up and down I-29 as airline employees stripped the old airport of furniture, files, fixtures and paperwork and carted their loads up the highway to KCI.

Inside the massive KCI terminals, carpenters and other workmen labored overtime, hammering together ticket counters and shelves, bolting down chairs in the departure and arrival areas, and erecting magnetometers that will screen the first passengers to use the quarter-billion-dollar airport. …

The new airport wasn’t perfect, but it was going to be operable when the first scheduled flight, a Delta flight to Memphis, took off at 1:20 a.m. The permanent signs giving directions to passengers weren’t all up, but the makeshift plywood signs resting on two-by-fours around the terminal would do the job….

It was not all confusion, however. Trans World Airlines and Delta Airlines ticket counters were finished and ready for business. Inside the gift shops employees were calmly stacking the shelves. Television monitors announcing arrivals and departures were already flashing today’s schedules.

Even while KCI was being prepared for its first day of business, normal Friday night crowds were converging on Municipal Air Terminal. Travelers found, however, that most of the chairs at the gates had been removed and were forced to stand until time to board their flights.

Braniff Airlines found itself with a problem — four jets to be moved to KCI overnight and only a 3-man crew to fly them. Officials said that during the early morning hours the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer would fly a plane up to KCI, take a taxi back to the old airport, and repeat the process until all four jets were safely at the new facility. Each flight was expected to take an hour. …

At 9:30 p.m. William E. Fried, of Atlanta, bought the first ticket at KCI, purchasing a seat on Delta Air Lines’ 1:20 a.m. flight to Atlanta.

“I don’t compare it (KCI) with the old airport,” said Fried, a stereo tape distributor here. “What I compare it with is Atlanta. It’s a lot better. I like the way you can walk in, buy your ticket and walk right onto the plane.”…

The last word on the old Municipal Air Terminal came from a Frontier Airlines pilot. Don Sapp, assistant chief air traffic controller in the old airport’s control tower, called the pilot over his radio as the Frontier jet was preparing to take off.

“What’s your reaction to leaving the airport for the last time?” Sapp asked.

“It’s kind of sad to leave the old lady, but we’ve pushed our luck far enough,” the pilot radioed back, referring to the runway. “Good riddance.”