Airline consolidation, the move to bigger planes, and trimming of under-performing flights has resulted in less need for gate space in all but a few privileged focus cities and hubs across the United States. Kansas City International Airport (MCI) or as we locals call it, “KCI,” is the 39th-busiest airport in the country and has seen the effects of this first-hand. As airlines began to sunset (we’ll miss you, Braniff, TWA, and Vanguard) and consolidation spread across the industry, it became apparent that it was time to consolidate terminals.
On January 8, 2014, US Airways Flight 1948 departed Kansas City International’s Terminal A for Charlotte. This would be the last regularly scheduled operation out of the 42-year old structure. This was a bittersweet milestone for travelers of all sorts in our two-state metropolitan area, albeit for very different reasons. For those not in the know, our airport is comprised of three thin, horseshoe-shaped terminals. This was a revolutionary design for its day, but has proven a real challenge for airlines, passengers, and airport operations in recent history.
Consolidation aside, moving operations out of Terminal A allowed for clearing space for what many agree is a longer-term solution to ensure Kansas City remains competitive with its local peers: A single, modernized, consolidated terminal. More on that story and the perplexing controversy over this much-needed, PFC-funded infrastructure project some other time.
For nearly four years, this terminal has been out of reach of the public eye while the aviation industry has continued to work through its various consolidations. AirlineReporter was granted rare access to the terminal while awaiting the arrival of the TriStar Experience L-1011 late last month. Join us as we stroll down memory lane…
Kansas City International’s Terminal A holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I became a frequent flyer with my first airline love: Midwest. It’s here where I first flew on a commuter plane, where I accomplished my first nonrev, and it was the first of the three terminals that I flew out of. I was excited to have the opportunity for a reunion; it is something that I had lobbied airport operations for at least a year. In my excitement to have access, and out of boredom in waiting for the long-delayed L-1011 flight I offered to Periscope a walk-through of the terminal. I can’t say I am terribly popular on that quirky social media platform, yet in the month following my 31-minute live broadcast, the video has received over 1,600 views. Folks dig behind-the-scenes, and I can’t blame them.
For the most part, the terminal is as it was on the final day of operation for each of the airlines that occupied it prior to consolidation. It has only been a few years, yet walking through its empty corridors is a testament to how drastically the aviation industry has changed in such a short period of time. This terminal most recently housed operations for United, AirTran, and US Airways. Each of the airlines left behind bits of memorabilia and evidence of their prior residency.
A short wall bisects the narrow terminals creating public and sterile areas. Shown here is the public side; the sterile “holding rooms” as they are referred to, are of roughly equivalent size. Terminal A is a near carbon-copy of its non-connected counterparts, Terminals B and C. Can you imagine packing a few Boeing 737-800 and 757s worth of passengers in this place, all at one time?
Those who watched my Periscope will note my amusement over the number of what I incorrectly assumed were abandoned bags which were scattered about the terminal. I was later informed by airport personnel that the bags and various distractions actually serve a purpose, one that wasn’t terribly obvious. Despite being out of public use, the terminal is still occasionally used for training purposes. What looked like abandonment in its purest form was at least partially due to the need to create realistic training scenarios for law enforcement dogs from various departments.
I have made some great memories around this terminal over the years. Despite this, I recognize it’s time to let go and embrace the future. In my time hob-knobbing with aviation historians and “old timers,” I have noticed a theme. Folks tend to cherish the past, augment the positive, and forget about the bad. This is an incredible blessing and a redeeming quality, but it is also one which few acknowledge distorts our perceptions. Psychologists have a term for this, the positivity effect. In order for Kansas City to move forward, we have to let go of Terminal A, which will need to be demolished in order to make way for our new terminal. However, the fate of a two-state multi-million resident metropolitan area is hanging on the blessing of a minority of airport users: those who occupy Kansas City, Missouri city limits. As a frequent flyer residing in the suburbs, I have no vote.
Having the opportunity to visit Terminal A once more was great for obtaining closure. I’ll sincerely miss it, but it’s time to let go. I just hope we can convince the residents of Kansas City, MO to make the right choice as our great metropolitan community is dependent upon this economic engine. So long terminal A. I’ll miss you, but you need to go.
Bonus photos (click to enlarge):