KCI welcomes the first flyers into a new airport terminal showing off ‘all the best of Kansas City’
Kansas City has made the big switch to its $1.5 billion airport terminal. Thousands of travelers came through the new facility on Tuesday — including some who booked a flight just for the occasion.
Wearing a “KC” T-shirt, Dawn Taylor had the honor of arriving on the first flight into Kansas City’s brand-new airport terminal on Tuesday morning. She had boarded bright and early in Chicago.
“The gate agents were dancing. There was Kool & The Gang, ‘Celebrate Good Times’ playing,” Taylor said, smiling. “It was balloons. It was selfies, free popcorn, all kinds of things. Red carpet on the jetway going on to board the flight. And then when we flew in, we could look out the window, we had a water cannon salute with the fire trucks.”
When she stepped off the plane to KCI, Taylor says she was handed a mimosa — a treatment she jokingly says she now expects every time she flies here.
After an overnight swap (and several years of construction), Kansas City International Airport abandoned its decades-old horseshoes and welcomed its first travelers to the $1.5 billion single terminal. And like the airport opening itself, those initial flights came in right on time.
Another early arrival was Kansas City native Chad Harris, who came into KCI from visiting his sister in Minneapolis. Harris says he intentionally scheduled one of the last flights out of the old terminal on Monday so he could say goodbye.
“Having had a lot of history with the old terminal, I appreciated it, but I was also excited to see this new chapter for Kansas City and for our city and the region,” Harris says. “We did a hard turn page overnight and it's pretty fantastic to see that transition. I love that.”
All around, people flowed in and out of the airport taking photos, videos, and selfies with the new public artwork — $5.6 million worth, the largest public art project in Kansas City history.
There were a few hiccups, of course: Passengers navigating the new baggage handling system, and wheelchair users having to travel longer distances than in the old terminals.
Robert Hilton has been a volunteer airport ambassador at KCI for 10 years, and he spent Tuesday helping people find where they need to be — the right airline or where to pick up a rental car.
“Today, everybody’s new,” Hilton says. “Normally, I just help the people from out of town who have that lost look on their face. Today, everybody has that lost look.”
Benivia Sapp and her mother, Sam McLellan, were settled snugly at City Market Coffee Roasters while on a layover, waiting for their flight to California for vacation.
Sapp says Tuesday was her first time in Kansas City, and the airport made a good first impression.
“It's beautifully decorated. They put a lot of attention to detail and clearly a lot of money into it,” says Sapp. “We were sitting here admiring the architecture and the work that they've done in the art displays.”
Sapp’s favorite art display is the “Jazz Birds” by artist Willie Cole. The “birds,” crafted out of saxophones, pay homage to Kansas City’s rich jazz history.
In addition to lots of local art displays, the new terminal features nearly 50 shops and restaurants, with concessions managed by Vantage Airport Group. KCI says that 80% of the shopping and dining concepts are local to Kansas City.
One of the local businesses that has set up shop at KCI is Directors Cut Take 2, a salon and spa. It’s a spinoff of Armon Lasker’s original Director's Cut in the 18th and Vine District.
Jeb Brooks, a frequent flyer, got a haircut from Lasker Tuesday. He says he’s gotten his hair done at airports all around the world, but until Tuesday, KCI didn’t have a barbershop.
“I love the pride of the place that this store has, you know, right there in front of security,” Brooks says. “So you come out, you see that barber pole spinning. You gotta come in and get a haircut.”
Brooks says his haircut — and the new terminal — are spectacular.
The carefully curated spaces at KCI are not just for adults. Through a partnership with Variety KC, the terminal is home to an inclusive, indoor play area. It’s designed to teach children about aviation.
Amyah Haliburton — she’s 10 years old — was at the airport with her parents and five siblings. They had just returned to Kansas City. Amyah says the playground teaches kids what it's like to fly a plane.
“It's really fun for little kids ‘cuz it's educating and it helps them engage in, like, the airport stuff,” she says.
Deputy director of aviation Justin Meyer says from the play area to bathrooms, KCI’s new terminal focuses heavily on inclusion. Meyer says there are gender-inclusive restrooms and a flight simulator for people who are nervous about flying as well as other features designed to make flying comfortable for everyone.
“We have a quiet room, we have a sensory room. But I think, in addition to being really significant and potentially life-changing for families that understand why that's a need, I think we did things that are really impressive just for the general travelers,” Meyer says.
Harris says the new terminal makes him proud of his hometown.
“It highlights so much of what our city's known for. So the art in here is fantastic, the sculptures, the food scene,” Harris says. “There's the smell of barbecue in the air as you get off the plane and it's just fantastic. So I can see that the terminal really represents all the best of Kansas City.”