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An overnight change at the Kansas City airport will leave old terminals to history

People stand in line at an airport security check-in.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Travelers leaving from the new KCI terminal will no longer go through security at the entrance to their gates. Instead, security will be directly after check-in at the entrance of the larger terminal.

Airport crews are set to work overnight on Monday to change Kansas City International Airport from the old horseshoe terminals to the new single terminal. "It'll be really fun just to watch that logistical execution take place,” says the airport's deputy aviation director.

At 10:25 p.m. on Monday, passengers on Southwest Airlines flight No. 3369 are scheduled to fly from Kansas City to Chicago. That will be the last time anyone flies out of KCI’s B and C terminals.

Between that Monday night departure and 5 a.m. Tuesday, workers throughout the airport will move planes, kiosks and airline equipment from terminals B and C and new signage will go up directing people to the new single terminal.

“I think that we've planned well for that, but it'll be really fun just to watch that logistical execution take place,” said Justin Meyer, deputy director of aviation at KCI.

An estimated 30,000 travelers are scheduled to fly in and out of the old horseshoe terminals Monday, and about 25,000 are expected throughout the first day in the new terminal. Meyer said that’s a slow day for KCI. The team intentionally chose Feb. 28 for opening day so the airport team can be more available for the transition.

“This is a pretty slow time of the year, typically,” Meyer said. “And Tuesday is one of the slowest days of the week.”

While the aviation department expects the transition to affect travel on Monday and Tuesday, Meyer said they’re not expecting “too much of a backup for travelers.”

Much of the transition is in the control of airlines, which are responsible for moving their own equipment and planes. Southwest has already moved its check-in kiosks as well as other administrative space and equipment.

Travelers wait at the Southwest check-in counter as employees check their luggage and put it on a conveyer belt to be sent to the plane.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Southwest has already moved its self-check-in kiosks to the new terminal. Overnight on Monday, the airline will move at least 12 planes as well.

Dan Landson, a spokesperson for Southwest, said the airline has spent thousands of hours preparing.

“Opening a brand new terminal is so unique in the United States,” Landson said. “It doesn't happen often, and when it does it's such a big event for the community because this does bring a whole new generation of travel into Kansas City, specifically.”

Many planes will be moved throughout the day Monday. Southwest will move at least 12 of 31 planes scheduled to be in Kansas City overnight.

“There's been a lot of work behind the scenes to get everything ready,” Landson said. “Things that you may not even realize, like making sure that there's cell phone reception on the tarmac in our gate areas, making sure there's easily accessible wifi signals, and even connections into our network operations control center in Dallas.”

Aviation department workers will also move technology and office materials necessary to run the airport, and change signage on roadways to direct traffic to the new terminal and remind travelers that terminals B and C are closed.

“Passengers that are flying out before the 27th or on the 27th and then coming back Tuesday the 28th or later will have a completely different experience upon arrival as they're departing from the old facilities and into the new terminal,” Meyer said.

Valerie Buxton, Tammy Davis, Andrea Jacobs and Mindy Gregory are four of those hundreds of thousands of passengers. On Saturday, the friends were leaving for their sixth annual girls’ trip to Las Vegas, and they have traditions tied to the old terminals.

Four women sit side by side in airport lounge chairs as they wait to go through security. They each hold scratchers, or scratch-off lottery tickets, in their hands.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
From left: Valerie Buxton, Tammy Davis, Andrea Jacobs and Mindy Gregory were waiting on Saturday to depart for their sixth annual girls' trip to Las Vegas from KCI's terminal B. When they come home, they'll return to the new single terminal.

An ice storm threatened their first trip, so they arrived at the airport about four hours before their scheduled departure to make sure they didn’t miss one of the only flights to leave KCI that day. Since then, they arrive early for every trip, get snacks from QuikTrip on the way, sit outside of security checkpoints at KCI, do scratchers and take shots.

“Every year we come early and we sit and wait in the terminal for a couple hours and we have very limited choices,” Jacobs said. “So I'm excited for the new choices that we have for next year coming in.”

A new concession provider, Vantage Airport Group, has nearly 50 shops and restaurants at the new terminal. The company is working on transitioning and training employees at the new restaurants so travelers like Jacobs and her friends can take their shots at the airport bar.

The majority of the concessions workers for the new terminal already work for the airport, Meyer said, but Vantage is still filling remaining positions.

“Earlier this week, one of the barbecue restaurants was seasoning their smokers and smoking meat and doing kind of test kitchen work to just make sure everything's working,” Meyer said.

Signs hang overhead directing people into the airport. The exterior is geometric concrete, with the view of the terminal looking like half of a horseshoe. Cars drive through the circle to pull up directly to the gate.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
The horseshoe terminals were convenient when KCI opened in the 1970s and people could drive up and walk directly to their gates. The new single terminal set to open on Feb. 28 is more convenient for today's travel.

Buxton, Davis, Jacobs and Gregory are scheduled to return March 2 at 1 a.m. Though they expect to be tired, they said they can’t wait to see the new terminal.

“This one's always been kind of cool just because it's so simplified,” Buxton said. “But the (new terminal) is much needed. I’m kind of excited to see what it's going to be like because here, I hate to say it, but it's kind of drab. Everything's going to be new and still shiny.”

Other travelers who flew out of the old terminals and into the new one might have difficulty getting back to their cars. A red bus will run from the commercial curb lanes at the new arrival area of the single terminal to take passengers back to their vehicles in terminals B and C, or the old garage and circle lots.

As they waited in terminal B for more than an hour before their plane boarded, Buxton said they were feeling nostalgic about their last trip from the old terminals.

“But now we'll have new memories of the new terminal,” Jacobs said. “We will be one of the first ones (to see it). So we hope to have another story to add to our collection.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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