Two weeks ago, Southwest Airlines gave a presentation to the Kansas City Airport Terminal Advisory Group about the proposed $1.2 billion new terminal plan for Kansas City International Airport (MCI). Southwest officials echoed our concerns about the immense cost of the plan.
These revelations pushed some of those who had supported the new terminal to call for a new plan. But in the past week, those who still support the new terminal plan started to push back. As the Kansas City Star reports, transportation consultants working for the terminal advisory group stated that upgrades might attract more flights. These consultants also stated that the new terminal plan has the increased amenities and power outlets the business community demands.
Adding to this, business leaders stated at the most recent meeting of the Airport Advisory Group that unnamed businesses chose not to invest in Kansas City because MCI is not a welcoming “front door.” Those business leaders went on to say, like the aforementioned transportation consultants, that major repairs are necessary to draw more business travelers and investment to Kansas City. In other words, business travelers choose travel destinations based upon which airports have Cinnabons and Sbarros.
However, these arguments are less compelling when one notes that, with 51 cities in reach by direct flights, MCI has relatively good service compared to airports in peer cities. This is largely due to MCI’s price competitiveness.
In addition, the evidence shows that a city’s economic climate, not the state of its airport terminals, is most important for determining travel demand. As to the need for more amenities like food options and electrical outlets, building a $1.2 billion new terminal to address these matters is like using a jackhammer to drive a nail.
To sum it up, the airlines (and common sense) say that building an expensive new terminal will not increase demand for air travel. Quite the contrary, the higher costs to airlines and passengers may mean fewer flights. Even if we agree with business leaders that MCI requires more amenities, certainly there is a cheaper way of providing these than a $1.2 billion new terminal plan. The cost is so much greater than the supposed benefits that the plan looks more like a vanity project than a sound investment.