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Kansas City’s new airport terminal is a mess for picking up passengers. Can it be fixed?

People walk back and forth with luggage on a crosswalk inside an underground driveway where many cars are lined up behind them.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Travelers at KCI's new terminal use a crosswalk in the arrivals area where vehicles line up to pick up passengers flying into the airport.

Travelers have complained about waiting in pickup lines that have extended as far as the highway. But officials say the system at the new terminal fails when people start parking in the pickup line.

Two weeks after the opening of the new terminal at Kansas City International airport, passenger pickups continue to be an issue. Drivers picking up people at the terminal have complained of lines that stretch all the way to the highway, due to people parking in the pick-up lanes.

The new terminal has four lanes in the arrivals area — the two closest to the curb serve as pick up lines. The lines can be worse at the end of the day, with more arrivals and fewer departures.

Patty Barstow described it as “a total nightmare” on Friday. She came from Grandview to pick up a passenger arriving from Phoenix.

“The old airport had much more room, I've been waiting about 15, 20 minutes,” she said.

She said her wait in the pickup line was due to the lack of cell phone reception at the terminal.

But officials say people have to start changing their habits — gone are the days where drivers could park in the pickup lane to wait for their passengers, something that often happened at the old terminals.

Deputy Director of Aviation Justin Meyer says the system at the new terminal fails when people start parking in the pickup line. To help alleviate the issue, officials have stepped up enforcement at the curbside lane and added signage directing people to the cell phone lot.

But Meyer says there are a few things drivers can do to streamline the process. First: don’t arrive too early.

“So if a driver is on the curb and saying, ‘Oh, but they just landed, they're taxiing in now, or they're walking to the baggage claim,’ that driver can't sit there, we don't have enough space for drivers to just sit and wait,” he says. “That curb front is for active loading only.”

A large blue street sign sits near a paved entrance to a parking lot. Some cars are parked some cars are moving in and out of the lot. The sign reads "Cell phone/ride share lot."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Traffic moves in and out of the cell phone lot at Kanas City International Airport on Wednesday, March 10, 2023.

For passengers who arrive too early, Meyer recommends parking at the cell phone parking lot at 680 Brasilia Avenue.

“There's a hundred parking spaces there where drivers who have arrived before their passenger is ready for pickup can wait for a phone call to say, ‘Hey, I've got my bag and I'm on the curb standing by column one G.’”

Officials have added larger digital signage directing people to the cell phone lot after complaints it was difficult to find.

Lowell Mayone came from Liberty on Friday to pick up his granddaughter and parked at the cell phone lot. He said the lot could use a better location and better upkeep.

“I mean, this is kind of out of the way. You start doubting that you're heading in the right direction and then when you get here, it looks like a trash dump,” he laughed.

Another option, Meyer says, is to park in the garage across the street from the new terminal. It costs a dollar for the first 30 minutes.

While the pick-up process has been a headache for some Kansas City area residents, passengers arriving at KCI from out of town had some positive reviews.

John Morawiec is from Houston and was waiting to be picked up curbside at the terminal. He said it was a “pretty slick” experience.

“These posts are very well marked,” he said. “So you tell a person you're at one K and they come around the corner and pick you right up.

Morawiec found the airport officials in Kansas City more friendly than those in Houston.

“At both Houston airports, this curbside experience is miserable with people with whistles and high visibility vests that won't let you stop your car for that long,” he said. “They don't know Midwest nice. Let me tell you, they need to learn that.”

On the drivers’ side, Meyer says he expects the conditions to improve over time.

“Certainly we are all learning together with this new facility, but that's something that we expect to see improvement on,” he said. “I think we already are just in a week of operation.”

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