End of an Era

Tonight, the final flights will be departing and arriving at the old terminal buildings at Kansas City International Airport, known as MCI (Mid-Continent International) but known locally as KCI.

The airport was built around fifty years ago to replace the Downtown Airport which was , well…downtown. The replacement consisted of three semi-circular terminal buildings (A, B & C). Terminal A was torn down a few years ago after a new all-encompassing terminal building was approved to be built. The new building now stands where Terminal A used to be.

The old buildings were showing not only their age, but were built in a time before TSA checkpoints stopped everyone but passengers going to the gates. At that time there was plenty of room for people to gather and plenty of food stalls and newsstands. It was a very busy place at times and I remember going over there to the bar to have a drink or two and watch planes with a friend on a Saturday.

Times change, however. Post-TSA came the new realities, with security at every gate and very limited options for restrooms, food, etc. available at the gates. The crowding was absolutely horrible the last several times I flew out of there.

From what I have seen the new Terminal is a nice building that is well laid-out, and the trial runs with the public as “passengers” simulating a travel day have gotten a lot of good reviews. A main concourse with gates going off in two directions with plenty of room to expand. There is one security checkpoint for each row of gates in the new facility, whereas the old one would have about 30 gates per Terminal building and there was TSA for about every 3-5 gates and no TSA Pre-Check if I remember correctly. There has been a big push to use local business for the concessions and some are minority- and/or woman-owned. There is also a new baggage system which will benefit those traveling, but that doesn’t affect me. I use the “no checked luggage” travel method.

A few airlines were invovled in the development of the new building, offering more flights and whatever else they agreed to do (we’ll see how watertight those promises are…). There is also hope 🤞🏼 that there will be some airlines (maybe even some new ones) bringing direct intercontinental flights to leave out of the new facility. That would be fantastic to have that happen. I believe the only international flight out of there goes to Canada and there are no flights to any other continents.

I will definitely miss the ease of getting to my gate – pull up to the curb, go in the door and voila! There’s my gate! No BS – no shuttles, trams, trains, buses…not even a long walk. Simple. Probably the easiest airport I have ever traveled through.

I have some fond memories of the old airport. My dad worked for a major airline so planes were always a thing of interest. His maintenance facility was next to the runway and you could see it from the airport. We used to get passes to fly for free (which I really wish I would have taken more advantage of, but after you read this you might see how that’s a bad idea) and one time I went to Colorado on a pass to see a friend.

I could fly free with a few dollars surcharge, and First Class was only $15 more! When leaving my friends house I rode a bus to the downtown bus station in Denver. Imagine, you are 13 years old and alone in the Greyhound station in the downtown of a major city. I had to catch a taxi to Stapleton and it took literally the last dime I had in my pocket to pay the fare – not even a nickel for a tip to the cabbie.

I go in the airport and find a payphone. Called my parents collect and told them I had no money, and the last plane to KC left as I was in the taxi. The scheduling could not have been worse. They devised a plan and instead of hanging out in the airport, I got on a flight to San Francisco. I was going to meet up with a relative who was going to get me some cash then catch a flight to KC. What bad could come of this?

I got the flight to San Francisco and got off the plane. I walked to the gate exit. A strange voice yelled out my name and she said she was my Dad’s aunt Ruby. (Her husband was a very interesting guy; I remember meeting them when I was very young. She dressed like an old hooker (imagine someone like that approaching you, thirteen years old, in an airport…). He was in the Bataan Death March in WWII and was telling us about how horrifyingly brutal it was and did it in a lot of detail. I was probably a bit too young – maybe eight or so – to hear this stuff.)

Anyhoo, they gave me some money and off I went after we chatted for a few. My itinerary was to get on a plane in San Francisco to KC, with a stop in Los Angeles. And now I had the money for the First Class seat and free food! How damn awesome!

I get in my seat and get situated. As we push back, I looked around and I was one of two people in the big chairs; everyone else on the plane was in the cheap seats. It’s dark and it’s summer so it’s very late, or perhaps very early. It’s my first redeye flight.

I was about to have a different kind of redeye.

The flight attendant came around and asked if I would like something to drink. I said “What ya got?”, and she rattled off the usual soft drinks, coffee, tea, water. So, gutsy 13-year-old me asks “Got anything stronger?”. She kinda got a smile and said “Oh we have champagne, wine, beer, cocktails…”. So I said “Champagne it is”. She poured me a glass…and then left the bottle on my tray!

I. Am. A. Rockstar.

Between SFO and LAX I had four glasses of champagne before the well ran dry. Yeah, buddy. I remember having to get off the plane but I cannot remember for certain if it was a plane change or because I was flying stand-by. I was able to get back on the flight to KC but I think I was about 15 rows back in the cheap seats. No primo seating this go-round.

I remember getting a club sandwich for my meal. And what would go great with a club sandwich? Why yes! Red wine! FIVE GLASSES of it! One of the last things I remember before “sleeping” was seeing people smoking cigarettes and the smoke just being everywhere for everyone else to enjoy as well.

As we approached Kansas City and prepared to land, I remember waking up to a sunrise outside my window. I had a bit of trouble getting my eyes open for some odd reason. We landed and it was good to be off this travel merry-go-round (of course I love to do that now!).

I mention this story because I remember sitting in a chair near the window, waiting for my ride. My Mom was dropping my Dad off at work and taking me back home. I also remember my Dad was mad. I was still hammered. He could tell, I heard, because as they pulled up to get me I apparently just smiled at them with my eyes barely open, not moving or even trying to stand up.

Yeah, that was probably pretty obvious in hindsight.

And, of course, the innumerable trips back and forth to see my parents – both the good times and bad. I made many flights and road trips when they were sick and I spent a lot of time in those cramped gates waiting for that 7:00 AM flight back to Seattle.

My last flight out of and into MCI was February 2020, when Angie, Chelsea and I went to Europe, sitting next to Willie Lanier from the 1969 KC Chiefs in First Class to Atlanta. Pretty good way to go out for my last memory of this airport.

A fond farewell to Terminals A, B & C…the simplest and most functional major airport built that I have ever been to.

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