Proposed changes to the KCI airport are all the buzz these days. There are proposals and counterproposals, commissions formed, press conferences, letters to the editors. All the politicians and columnists who occupy the non-913 section have weighed in. Here is an idea: Ask someone who actually spends time at KCI. Like a frequent traveler. Not a contractor, politician or pointy-headed know-it-all. In other words, me.
Here are nine simple recommendations.
First, move it from its current location — just south Lincoln, Neb. KCI is nestled in the midst of dollar motels and strip malls that last saw customers when “Happy Days” was on TV. Here is a crazy idea: Move KCI near civilization. Like the Legends, for instance, or west of Olathe. Consider that Midway Airport, which is booming, takes up one square mile in the middle of Chicago. Put the new airport on top of the Great Plains Mall. Would anyone miss the Orange Julius?
Second, ditch the buses that connect the terminals. They are horribly slow, inefficient and a terrible introduction to the city. The Star reported that the number of passengers arriving and departing KCI fell 8 percent in the last year. Take one of those buses and you’ll know why.
Third, change those announcements that blare over the terminal endlessly. “KCI is a non-smoking airport.” “Don’t accept bag from a stranger.” Who smokes in the baggage check line and accepts carry-ons from scary people? Give me one name. Nashville’s airport has country-western personalities saying things like, “Welcome to the country music capital of the world. Have a beer. Relax.” It’s refreshing.
We could have George Brett say something like, “I beat the Yankees and Billy Martin with a pine tar bat. I went yard three times in a playoff game. This is my home. Come eat BBQ and have a Boulevard Beer.” Or: “This is Len Dawson. I won a Super Bowl when my coach Hank Stram called 65 toss power trap. I beat cancer and love Kansas City.”
We could adapt it to changing circumstances, like this: “Can you hit and field? Can you take pitches and walk? Take a cab to Kauffman Stadium immediately.”
Fourth. Cut a deal with Southwest. Negotiate a hub here. We’ve been the home to Braniff and other losers. Let’s get a winner.
Fifth. The Star reported that KCI has had more than $300 million in upgrades since 2001. It’s hard to see where that money went. Boston’s airport has a 3D hologram that tells you the rules while you wait for the photo ID person. She is beautiful. Shockingly, people watch her. Let’s do that with Miss Kansas or Miss Missouri. Get a hologram of Mark Mangino. People would watch him. It’s better than the portly guy who forgot his breath mints and Right Guard patrolling around barking out “Remove your laptops!”
Sixth. Keep the security arrangement. In 2010, J.D. Power and Associates ranked KCI highest among medium sized airports, primarily due to accessibility. I would create VIP lanes for anyone over 70 and anyone who wears those mesh hats that says WW2 veteran.
Seventh. Gate agents. Hire nice people. Maybe recruit nuns from the local convent. Get some retired librarians or those men who work in the lawn equipment section of Sears.
Eighth. The stores are hideous. Lose the shirts that reinforce stereotypes about Dorothy and cow patties. Have a store with free books about famous locals like Ike or Truman. Have a video room that plays clips of the greatest moments in Missouri and Kansas history. Show the pine tar incident on repeat scroll. Show the MU-KU overtime games.
Ninth. Free parking. Tell the world that in Kansas City the airport parking is free.
This is a hopeless plan. It’s sensible and cheap, which means it has no chance.