Officials must show that new KCI terminal will retain convenience

A friend flew in from Milwaukee a few times this year and remarked on how much he liked Kansas City International Airport.

Many of us concur. Now the question will be whether we use the word “is” or “was” in discussing the good qualities of the airport.

The Kansas City voters who went to the polls last week gave overwhelming approval to building a proposed $1 billion, single-building terminal to replace the three horseshoe-shaped terminals we’ve used for decades. Most city leaders including Mayor Sly James, are ecstatic. 

Many of us are invoking that old well worn Missouri phrase, one very apt in this case: “Show me.”

Advocates for a new airport terminal clearly won the election, but there’s a long-term public opinion consensus that will remain to be settled.

Proponents got their voters out after an intense and cash-backed campaign. Opponents didn’t have big election dollars to spend. The airport debate has gone on so long, too, that issue fatigue likely helped proponents.

Many people who likely just couldn’t make up their mind might not have gone to the polls for a special election.

But opponents and the undecided folks will be watching to see not only what is built, but how convenient it feels when they fly to and from other cities. Remember too that the Kansas City metro area is huge, and many, many people who fly didn’t get to vote on this issue.

But they will likely get nicked for part of the costs when they do use KCI.

For the sake of Platte County, our entire Kansas City region, and my own selfish travel needs, I hope I have to eat my negative thoughts and words about a new terminal. I’m a long-time critic of a new big-box terminal in newspaper columns and personal conversations.

I know from a lot of those conversations that I’m not alone.

Count me among those who wondered why they called KCI crowded when Terminal A was mothballed and not being used. I sat in the waiting area near departure gates some times when things were a bit cramped and wondered about the closed terminal.

I’m among those who thought perhaps some improvements were not made because airport managers, bankers, construction companies and civic leaders who like big-dollar projects were determined to build a new terminal, and letting things go downhill might help influence public opinion that a new terminal was needed. I noted all the letters to the editor in The Kansas City Star from frequent business flyers who far prefer KCI to all the other airports they must pass through.

I thought about the big boxes I’ve had to make long hikes through, or even long sprints, when traveling through airports in other cities. Then there are the mammoth airport concourses with stores full of junk for sale that few travelers ever really need.

Oh boy.

But we lost, so now we’ll have to adapt. I’ve taken cheer from the quotes and letters that I read in The Star from architects and leaders I have long respected, that indeed it is time for a new terminal.

I’ll hope there will be some surprisingly nice things I didn’t expect. And I remember no matter my travails in huge airports getting from one place to another, such as Seattle, Denver and Salt Lake City, I made it.

I somehow got to the right flight and made it home to peaceful, easy KCI.

A new airport portal to the world is coming no matter what. Yet Kansas City leaders better beware. If the airport is not easy and comfortable for travelers to use, and if it doesn’t feel like good old KC, and if the parking and prices are not Midwestern friendly, the current leadership will be remembered as the big and greedy egos that poured a billion dollars down a rat hole to ruin a good and beloved thing.

We shall bear in mind that change is often unstoppable and needed.

Kansas City’s Union Station is a monument to that. Although city leadership a few decades back allowed a pet office building project to cut off some tracks and access to the station, making its use for mass transit more difficult, which is also proof that making a buck now is not always in the best interest of the future for the public at large.

I’m hoping that after my first time to lug a few suitcases through a new KCI terminal, and wait at some gates, and then return, that I’ll know I was so wrong and that the future has been far better served by others more forward looking. But they won’t be able to tell us we were wrong, they’ll have to show us.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at