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Just weeks after 1972 opening, KCI was impacted by terrorism

KCI historic aerial 3.jpg
Posted at 4:00 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 11:07:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City International Airport opened with three terminals in late 1972, with a unique curb-to-jet bridge design.

That same day, Southern Airways Flight 49 was hijacked after take-off in Birmingham, Alabama. In fact, both stories appeared on the front page of the Kansas City Star on Sunday, Nov. 12, of that year.

KC Star Nov 12, 1972.jpg

That hijacking completely changed the game for Kansas City's new airport, which was supposed to be a very different air travel experience.

“Passenger departing gates were intermixed with baggage claims and ticket counters,” said Justin Meyer, deputy director of marketing and air service development for the Kansas City Aviation Department. “A lot of the restrooms and concession amenities were on the curb side, and passengers could move freely between the two spaces.”

RELATED | In post-9/11 world, new KCI terminal offers adaptability, efficiency not available in current design

The design of the airport wasn’t completely unique to Kansas City.

“The only other airport that might be somewhat parallel would be Dallas-Ft. Worth, with multiple semi-circle shaped terminals,” Meyer said. “But those, you could say, are 'Texas-sized,' in that they do have the space for a secure-area concourse, inside the secure checkpoint. Where our circulation is on the non-secure side, at DFW it's on the secure side.”

old KCI airport

Less than a month after the 1972 opening, major security changes were announced nationwide because of the hijacking. The changes turned KCI's unique design into a tight squeeze for travelers.

RELATED | KCI employee remembers working on 9/11: 'The afternoon was a ghost town here'

“Following that rule that the FAA issued on Dec. 5 of 1972, and then implemented on Jan. 5, airports needed to completely reset the way they operated and start creating a secure space for passengers, to separate them from unsecure areas, and those passengers entering the secure areas, and their carry-on baggage, would be screened for handguns, knives, grenades... that kind of thing," Meyer said.

kci 70s security changes