The End of Automobiles and Locals Dominating Airports

Ideas and Issues

Kansas City     Flying in and out of the Kansas City International airport is like a snapshot back in another time, more specifically a time when automobiles and the convenience of local customers dominated planning and performance.   Airports, and some train stations like the new ones in German cities like London, Berlin and Dusseldorf, are basically shopping malls where trains and planes slow down and pick up or drop off customers.  KCI reminds a flyer how quaint old airports use to operate.

Kansas City is made for Kansas City area residents.  They love being able to drop their family members off or pick them up right in at the gate.  The airport concourses are shaped like semi-circular pods so that if you live around here and are in the know, you can park inside the semi-circle and walk to your gate.  This is an airport built for speed from the street to the tarmac.  The addition of security from TSA means that rather than one centralized intake center common in most airports, old and new, there are stanchions in the hallways around groups of gates.  There are no real lines, and if you know your gate and walking right to it, this is faster for you.

Modern airports, like the new billion-dollar New Orleans airport, are fancy malls with popular local branded stores, shops, and food offerings mixed with the Starbucks, Peets, and other national conveyors.  By comparison, KCI is a strip mall in one of our neighborhoods with a bar, a newsstand, a pawn shop, and a tattoo parlor.  The whole airport is built on the premise of a convenience store not for sales, but for desperate items that you forgot or didn’t have time to purchase at home in Lee’s Summit or Emporia or someplace.  No one but the stranded and hapless business traveler would need to buy anything.  The California Pizza Kitchen workers didn’t bother to show for work and open up until close to 2pm in the afternoon in Terminal B.  The young woman working at the Great American Bagel & Bakery has been sitting behind the counter for the last half-hour on her phone with no customers in Terminal C.   The assumption seems to be:  who would bother?

If you have to change planes from one concourse to another, you have to leave security, go outside, and wait for the Red Bus that the loudspeaker announces will arrive every fifteen minutes.  Why would you be doing that the architect seems to be saying? Aren’t you just walking to her car to drive home?  Why would you be changing planes or meeting anyone from another terminal?  You must not be from here?

The giant Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is also built of similar interconnecting pods to suit the locals and automobiles, but at least there is a train that moves connectors from terminal to terminal on the ground level.  Otherwise, it seems like the same architect with a smaller budget was working in Kansas City.  They say there is a new airport being built here, but the only visible proof of that are more roads being built around the spaces between the terminals.  That’s not a good sign.  Airports of the future are less for commuters and more for connectors, and more for flyers than drivers.  The future is already here, and it doesn’t look like this in the 21st century.