Shocker! Airlines Want to Keep Costs Down
It was gratifying to read reports in the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Business Journal that Southwest Airlines is still interested in maintaining the low-cost competitive advantage that our airport, MCI, currently enjoys. This is levelheaded clear economic thinking, especially welcome after the Sturm und Drang of the mayor’s year-long Airport Terminal Advisory Group (ATAG) that amounted to a vacation from reality.
Now that a year has passed we can return to the plain facts. The CEO of Southwest Airlines, the carrier with the largest MCI service, was recently in town to showcase a Missouri-themed airplane. While here, as the Star reported, he said of the MCI terminal:
“I agree and Southwest agrees we definitely could stand to make some improvements. The question still remains exactly what is the best way to do that in the most cost-efficient manner,” Kelly said.
Air travelers are sensitive to price, something Kelly said is evident each time oil prices climb and the cost of flying jumps.
“It absolutely kills traffic,” he said.
People use airports to get on and off planes. They do not go to airports to eat at fancy restaurants or to buy socks or baseball caps. MCI is a highly regarded airport by passengers exactly as it is, and any changes need to be sensitive to the costs and convenience to airlines and travelers.
MCI is a relatively cheap airport for airlines to serve. One benefit is the many morning flights out of MCI because Southwest parks their planes here overnight. If airport fees rose to cover the costs of a new terminal, these planes might find cheaper accommodation elsewhere. Same for those midday direct flights to LaGuardia that originate from the West Coast. They stop here because MCI is a cheap place for them to fuel up and collect passengers. If fees rise, they may choose to connect in other cities and cost us the direct service.
Going forward, it is still tough to know who to believe on even the simplest details of the negotiations. Aviation Department Director Mark VanLoh recently told a Northland chamber group that he expects to have a recommendation before the city council by the end of summer. That seems unlikely. According to Austin Alonzo, Southwest’s CEO said, “We’ll get there, and I think patience is probably the right thing because it is a pretty complicated question.” The Star reported that the deadline for a final recommendation is May 2016.