Joseph Miller
Yesterday, representatives from Southwest Airlines, on behalf of the four major airlines operating out of Kansas City International Airport (MCI), gave testimony to the Kansas City Airport Terminal Advisory Group concerning plans to build a $1.2 billion terminal. Their statements regarding the viability of the current structure, the cost of a new terminal, and the impact of the new terminal’s cost on MCI’s competitiveness should prompt Kansas City officials to go back to the drawing board.

The Show-Me Institute has written about the new terminal plan numerous times. We have questioned the need for a new terminal and the lack of reasonable alternatives to the Aviation Department’s plan. We have expressed concern about the cost of a new terminal and the impact of those costs on the airport’s financial viability and competitiveness. We pointed out that many residents like the current layout, ranking No. 1 in overall airport satisfaction in a J.D. Power & Associates survey. In response, we hear that cost per enplaned passenger does not matter, that the current terminal is falling apart, and we are simply standing in the way of a modern MCI.

But as yesterday's Terminal Advisory Group meeting confirmed, Southwest and the other airlines that serve MCI agree with our position, and yes, costs matter in the air travel business. Their points were:

  • The current system meets the airlines' needs now and for the next 10 years. If customers need more, the airlines can pay for that in the future.

  • Airlines have mobile assets and are risk adverse. They will go where they can make the most money.

  • The new terminal plan will increase costs and that “higher cost can lead to less service, not more…”

  • “The terminals do not generate or impact demand” for flights.

  • The example of the billion dollar new terminal at Sacramento International Airport (as the Show-Me Institute publicized), and its subsequent financial and competitiveness issues, are a cautionary tale for MCI.

Essentially, the airline representatives all but said that the $1.2 billion new terminal plan is harmful and unnecessary. Apologists for the new plan are already going for damage control, stating that the airlines are just one voice among many. One Advisory Group member went as far as saying that there is tension between the airlines looking for low costs and the city looking to provide the best experience for is customers.

But the airlines are not just a voice, they are the airport’s tenants and main source of revenue. In addition, as market-driven entities, the airlines’ incentives are more in line with airline customers than city officials. Above all, travelers want cheap, convenient flights, not a shopping mall. If city officials are prudent, they will heed the warnings of the airlines and ground the new terminal plan.


About the Author

Joseph Miller
Policy Analyst
Joseph Miller was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute. He focused on infrastructure, transportation, and municipal issues. He grew up in Itasca, Ill., and earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree from the University of California-San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.