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Wheels Up at Kansas City

When opened on November 21, 1972, the three-terminal Kansas City International airport (KCI) was considered to be at the forefront of modern aviation. With runways designed for jumbo jets and visions of supersonic travel, it was an early example of the ‘drive-to-gate’ terminal design.

A not dissimilar layout was used for a new terminal at Cologne/Bonn (CGN) in Germany which opened in March 1970, having been designed in the late 1960s. Also from the same era, plans for a new airport at Hamburg were drawn up using the same thinking, although ultimately the idea was not proceeded with. More notably however and much nearer at Dallas Ft/Worth (DFW), the Texan airport also had its design roots in the 1960s and employed a near-identical style of building to those at Kansas City, although somewhat larger.

Above - part of Terminal B (Famartin - wikimedia commons)

The terminals’ once revolutionary design is now dated, space is cramped, and amenities no longer meet travellers’ expectations. Added security requirements have also complicated the travel process by further reducing available space.

Although Cologne/Bonn’s terminal has a ‘drive-to-gate’ ideal behind it, the ‘U’ shape design – as opposed to the semi-circular layout at KCI and DFW and at the ill-fated Hamburg project - also has a much larger degree of floor space. It has thus not suffered from the same limitations as that found at Kansas City but perhaps significantly, there was serious thought given to a complete rebuild at DFW. Cost considerations prevented those thoughts going beyond the design stage however. In Germany when terminal expansion was needed at CGN instead of following the original plans, a new (and larger) separate terminal was built adjacent to the existing one, Terminal 2, and the 1970 original remains in use today as Terminal 1

Left: one famous former resident at KCI was TWA, whose maintenance base occupied a sizeable part of the airport.

(Jon Proctor)

At Kansas City over the years, there have been several initiatives to renovate the existing terminals or perhaps even construct an entirely new terminal. In 1995 and 2009 two KCI Master Plans recommended a single terminal.

A more in-depth study was conducted in 2013 by the City of Kansas City and Missouri City Council that included passenger goals, objectives and preferences. The Mayor’s Airport Terminal Advisory Group, the Aviation Department and its airline partners concluded a new single-terminal design would be the best option to bring KCI up to modern standards and amenities.

Left - many aircraft movements at KCI currently tend to be smaller rather than larger due to the comparative lack of space (

In November 2017, local voters overwhelmingly approved construction of a single airport terminal with 76 percent in favour.

At just over one million square feet, the Kansas City International Airport Single Terminal is the largest individual infrastructure project in the City’s history. It will have a profound and lasting economic impact on the region in the form of new jobs, opportunities for local and small businesses, and a first-class traveller experience for airport users.

Left: Terminal A demolition began in July 2019

With 39 gates and the ability to expand to 50 in the future, the project will also include a 6,300-space parking structure along landside and airside improvements. The new terminal will support more efficient airline operations and allow airport users to enjoy the convenience of modern air travel in a facility with updated technology and amenities, close parking, spacious gate areas, and ample food and beverage options.

Kansas City is being recognized more and more as a world-class city and as a destination in its own right. The new KCI Single Terminal will greet visitors with a warm Kansas City welcome and send hometown travellers off in style.

Passengers will find wide-open spaces the moment they enter the terminal. Light and airy with a Kansas City feel, including signature fountains, the KCI single terminal will be a very different journey than before.

Above: The new terminal will be built on the site of Terminal A. Terminals B and C will continue in use until completion in 2023. All airlines will then move into the new building

The new car parking garage will be adjacent to the terminal with plenty of close-in, covered parking. The terminal will have two levels, one for departures and one for arrivals with clear wayfinding and sightlines. Two moving walkways will expedite transfers between the two concourses to make navigating the airport a better experience and consolidated and flexible security checkpoints with multiple lanes will accommodate the ups and downs of passenger volume.

The new KCI single terminal will feature the kinds of options and amenities travellers have come to expect in large metropolitan airports. KCI will transform from a drop-off airport into a destination worth exploring. Among the many improvements are:

  • Central customer service help desks

  • Airfield views

  • Inclusive play areas

  • Nursing mothers rooms

  • Service animal relief area

  • Military USO

  • Gracious crowd circulation

  • Flexibility for future changes

  • Art installation opportunities

Airlines at Kansas City:

Air Canada Terminal C
Alaska Airlines Terminal C
Allegiant Airlines Terminal B
American Airlines Terminal C
Apple Vacations Terminal C
Delta Air Lines Terminal B
Frontier Airlines Terminal C
Southwest Airlines Terminal B
Spirit Airlines Terminal C
United Airlines Terminal C
Vacation Express / Miami Air Terminal C
VivaAerobus Terminal C

The new terminal is being built on the site of Terminal A, which has been demolished. The other two semi-circular buildings, Terminals B and C. will remain in use until the new facility is completed. Although timelines can change with projects as large and multifaceted as a new terminal, the current expected completion date is early 2023.

All images courtesy of Kansas City International Airport unless otherwise stated

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