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Stranded travelers at KCI strain rental car agencies already short on supply

A sign that points to the entrance of a rental car return parking lot.
Zach Perez
Signs point out directions to KCI's car rental hub.

Rental car agencies are warning customers at KCI that they are seeing a surge in demand for cars nationwide due to the cancellation of hundreds of Southwest Airlines flights. That surge is making it difficult for travelers of all kinds to find vehicles.

Travelers stuck at Kansas City International Airport who hope to drive rental cars home are finding that supply can’t keep up with demand.

Since the start of the week, Southwest Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights scheduled to arrive or depart from KCI.

Those cancellations have left many airline travelers stranded in KCI terminals, causing them to turn to the airport-based rental car agencies.

Multiple agencies are now warning customers that they are experiencing low vehicle availability due to the impacts of winter weather and widespread flight cancellations.

Josiah Lim, a traveler whose flight home to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was canceled by Southwest Tuesday morning, said he was told by Enterprise that he would have to wait multiple days for a car to become available.

“Yeah, we’ve been staying here this whole time,” said Lim, who had rental a hotel room. “Yesterday when I tried to put in for (a car) their system said they wouldn’t have anything available until Thursday.”

In a statement released to KCUR by the Hertz Corporation, the agency said it has experienced record call volume and demand for bookings of one-way rentals nationwide.

Some customers took to social media to report issues with agency websites and phone service, as well as cancellations of pre-existing car reservations due to lack of vehicles.

Wednesday morning, rental agencies at KCI re-listed a small number of available cars and Lim was able to reserve one.

“I just happened to check this morning,” Lim said. “Incredibly they had something available for me.”

Lim now faces a more than 750 mile drive, while others able to obtain a rental on Wednesday said they planned to drive as far as San Diego or Philadelphia.

“It’s worked out okay for me cause I have family here,” Lim said. “But now I don’t have much of a choice. I really need to get back.”

As KCUR’s Community Engagement Producer, I help welcome our audiences into the newsroom, and bring our journalism out into the communities we serve. Many people feel overlooked or misperceived by the media, and KCUR needs to do everything we can to cover and empower the diverse communities that make up the Kansas City metro — especially the ones who don’t know us in the first place. My work takes the form of reporting stories, holding community events, and bringing what I’ve learned back to Up To Date and the rest of KCUR.

What should KCUR be talking about? Who should we be talking to? Let me know. You can email me at zjperez@kcur.org or message me on Twitter at @zach_pepez.
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