KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The design of Kansas City International Airport was always meant to be unique, but never to feel cramped. A plane hijacking in 1972 (which happened on the same day KCI opened) forced major changes to security, and the tight spaces are still an issue for travelers.
But in less than two years, the airport is set to unveil its brand new single terminal, and the Kansas City Aviation Department believes it offers much more adaptability.
It's hard to believe now, but the Transportation Security Administration didn't exist before 9/11.
Today, air travelers are used to a very specific experience.
"Shoes now need to come off, liquids need to be out, laptops need to be out," said Justin Meyer, deputy director of the Kansas City Aviation Department.
The security enhancements after 9/11 made tight terminals even tighter.
"Our problem has been that every concession we add, or every restroom we add in the gate area takes away seats,” Meyer said. “And we don't have enough seats as it is."
The current terminals were built in a time with no need for secure and non-secure areas.
That's not the case for the new terminal.
Air travelers will immediately notice the wide open spaces inside. They're beautiful, and offer more room for shops, restaurants, even restrooms. And, they give this terminal something the current one doesn't have: adaptability.
“It's this space, and the functionality we have to get longer, get wider as equipment changes,” Meyer said. “That's been our biggest hindrance in the existing facility, is the lack of ability for the checkpoint space to flex as technology changes.”
KCI is known for having a unique design, incorporating short distances from a traveler’s car to the jet-bridge, but the function of that design is different in a post-9/11 world.
“There's a reason why other airports in the United States are not designed like us,” Meyer said. “It's not efficient."
It might not be the first thing travelers notice about the new terminal, but efficiency and adaptability are tucked into every corner do the new design can avoid the current terminal's fate.
"Every square foot has a purpose [in the new terminal],” Meyer said.
SOM, the firm behind the new terminal at KCI, echoed some of Meyer’s thoughts.
A spokesperson for the company told KSHB 41 that one of the most basic changes brought on by 9/11 is that passengers need to get to the airport earlier and will spend more time inside the secure area of the terminal. That simple fact has dramatically impacted airport design over the last two decades.
The new KCI is set to open in 2023.