Woe be the traveler flying out of Kansas City International Airport at 5 a. m. on a Tuesday.
That predawn hour early in the work week is one of the most hectic of times for business people boarding flights at KCI. Not surprisingly, it’s also when familiar grumblings about the failings of our quaint airport intensify.
Long lines snake through Terminal B, where travelers must navigate overcrowded, inconvenient gates. The lack of bathrooms and basic creature comforts such as coffee shops and USB charging stations are just the beginning of the problems that business travelers encounter in our airport from another era. (Sorry, folks: Cellphones didn’t exist when our airport was built.)
For these and so many more reasons, the KCI experience too often is not pleasant. A recent survey found that both Kansas City residents and travelers from outside of the area were dissatisfied with their interaction with the airport. That’s a shift from previous surveys that found higher satisfaction rates among local residents.
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Kansas City, we have a disco-era airport, but we’re trying to compete in a high-speed world.
Our 45-year-old airport’s shortcomings do damage to Kansas City’s business climate in ways that go beyond the inconvenience of an outdated interior and tunnel-like terminal areas.
More than 40 companies headquartered in the Kansas City area maintain international offices, according to data compiled by the Kansas City Area Development Council.
Many of the names are familiar: Cerner Corp., Sprint, Garmin, DST Systems, Seaboard Corp., Burns & McDonnell, Lockton, H&R Block, YRC Worldwide, Shook Hardy & Bacon and Kansas City Southern.
Cerner employees alone take more than 2,900 flights in and out of KCI every week, as they travel both internationally and across the United States. That adds up to a lot of chances to get irritated.
Numerous other firms that are also headquartered in the Kansas City area maintain offices around the globe: SPX Cooling Technologies, ScriptPro, Sioux Chief Manufacturing Co, BATS Global Markets and Ash Grove Cement Co.
The international outposts of these firms literally span the world and include at least 89 countries. In fact, 300 people a day depart KCI with Europe as their destination.
But don’t try reaching any international location with a direct flight from KCI. Weary Kansas City travelers endure multiple connections and time-wasting layovers as they inch their way toward their destinations from an airport that will only deliver them to a limited few cities.
And there’s more. Some international business travelers who fly out of KCI say they have grown accustomed to adding two extra days to their schedules to make up for the lack of flights out of Kansas City, one extra travel day to reach their destinations and another to make it back home.
That’s lost productivity, a problem for any business.
Businesses consider numerous factors when they decide to leave the area. But some firms no longer base employees in Kansas City in part because KCI’s failings cost them time and money, limiting where their employees could efficiently travel.
There are no guarantees that more flights will be added by the airlines if voters agree to construct a new single terminal. But if nothing is done, the number of flights out of KCI will continue to dwindle.
Kansas City is now the largest U.S. market without direct flights to Europe — a depressing distinction. Meanwhile, our peer cities are busy upgrading their airports.
Nashville just announced a $1.2 billion expansion to its international airport, a move that will make the city an even tougher competitor when it vies for conventions or businesses that are seeking to relocate or expand into new markets.
KCI is a perpetual impediment to everything Kansas City aspires to achieve. Our unpleasant airport undercuts the hometown friendliness we proudly tout. And its out-of-date configuration is a barrier to courting new businesses and conventions.
For flyers, KCI is the first impression they have of our city. And it’s the last bit of Kansas City they experience when they depart.
One million passengers traveled through KCI during August alone. That’s a lot of opportunities to get it right or sully visitors’ view of Kansas City.
The impression KCI makes is a lasting one and currently, it’s a lousy one. But Kansas Citians can change that by voting yes for a new, single-terminal airport Nov. 7.