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We spent 24 hours at KCI. Here's what worked and what didn't

Posted at 5:31 PM, Nov 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-03 05:47:59-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Our cameras started rolling around midnight on a Monday. 41 Action News Anchor Kevin Holmes and photojournalist Aubrey Morse hit the road for KCI about 4 hours later (4:20 a.m.) and drove the 25.6 miles to KCI’s Economy Parking Lot. The goal was to get there on time for a 7:10 a.m. Delta flight to Atlanta. 

“That 5:30 to 7:30 push in the morning is like a rock concert here,” Justin Meyer explained. 

Meyer is the Deputy Director of Aviation for KCI.

We reached the parking lot about a half hour later, just before 5 a.m.  Another 15 minutes after that, the shuttle picked us up, and it took us about 12 minutes to arrive at Terminal B. Passengers on the shuttle say that’s typical on a Monday, one of the busiest travel times of the week. 

Terminal B is KCI’s busiest, with nearly 70 percent of flights leaving and arriving there. Around 11.4 million passengers are expected to go through KCI in 2017. Airport leaders say all three terminals have outlived their usefulness. 

“It’s not feasible in the long term to think we can continue to do these 10 million dollar projects here,” Meyer told 41 Action News. “And quite honestly, we don’t have enough seats as is inside the gate areas.”

That’s one of the reasons we found Marc Goldsmith on the non-ticketed side of the terminal. He arrived early for his flight. He says sometimes there aren't enough seats, enough outlets, or enough anything. 

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“There’s no delineation between the downstairs and upstairs as to what goes on, and it’s unusual for an airport," said Goldsmith.

That’s not the only thing passengers found unusual. There’s only one bathroom in Terminal B, and Victoria Smiraldo says that can be troubling when she travels. 

“There’s always a long line, and sometimes when I’m trying to get on the plane, I have to figure out: Am I going to try to go to the bathroom before? Or once I get on the plane?”

Airport leaders say that would change with a new single terminal airport, which will be on the ballot Nov. 7. 

Another concern was seating and overcrowding. The two gates that have Delta’s two biggest planes are in an area that has 149 seats. But just those two planes seat 199 passengers each. So, if there’s ever a scheduling conflict, or a flight gets delayed and both departures are around the same time, hundreds of people will be forced to stand or make room somewhere in the terminal. 

“And that’s a problem. We need more seats,” said Meyer.

Desiree DePriest said she feels that’s the exception and not the norm when she travels. 

“I’m one of those people that does vote on those side items on a strange Tuesday,” she said.

And for the Tuesday vote coming up, DePriest said she will vote "no" for a new, single terminal airport. She said travel to and from KCI is already convenient enough for her.

“I’m a Midwestern girl," she said. "I like it simple.” 

Simplicity is why Tim Marshall and Sean Lockley are also against a new KCI. 

"Why spend all the money to build a new one?" said Marshall. 

“If you get here ahead of time like you’re supposed to... I’ve never had an issue,” Lockley followed.

Boarding for the 7:10 a.m. flight to Atlanta began around 6:30 a.m. with no major problems. Instead of hopping onboard, our crews stuck around. Eventually, we got hungry. 

There was only one option for hot food in this terminal. So, we got the cheapest entrée (one for the reporter and one for the photographer) and a bottled water for each member of the news team. It came out to just under $40 total. Airport leaders say a new airport also means more food options, some of which would be cheaper. 

Still, travelers like DePriest aren’t ready for those changes. 

“I’m sorry there’s not some five-star restaurant," she said. "I could get over that for the convenience.”

Getting off a flight for the first time at KCI can be confusing -- and we witnessed that look on several faces. Baggage claim is closer to the terminals than most airports, but all other amenities seem farther away. 

Variety just isn’t synonymous with KCI. Convenience is, but for most, that word seems to carry a different meaning.

“It’s not convenient when United's security checkpoint has a really long line and American has none,” Meyer says. “That’s not convenient for the United flyer. We’re looking to solve those.” 

DePriest isn’t convinced a new KCI is the way to go. “I like coming in and getting right on my plane. I like the convenience.”