Complete tour: The new Kansas City airport terminal brings major upgrades


For years, the naysayers put up a big fight against a new airport terminal in Kansas City, Missouri. They liked the convenience of the original facility, which offered the ability to park and practically walk onto the plane. They also didn’t want to run the risk of using taxpayer dollars to fund the new $1.5 billion facility, among other issues.

Yet here we are, nearly a decade later, on the cusp of the opening of the glistening new Kansas City International Airport (MCI) terminal — a project filled with blood, sweat and tears for many locals and politicians.

The opposition was strong, but Justin Meyer, the city’s deputy director of aviation, kept his head held high. Meyer and many supporters of a new Kansas City International Airport knew that the current aging facility had run its course. After all, the existing Kanas City airport opened in 1972, back when Trans World Airlines was headquartered in Kansas City.

Much has changed since then, including the introduction of the Transportation Security Administration, which took a lot of the convenience out of the existing facility. Each small cluster of gates featured its own checkpoint, a rare setup among airports nationwide.


Fast forward to today, and the new 39-gate terminal is ready for its grand debut on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

In advance of the opening, TPG got a first-look tour of the new terminal — and the upgrades are big enough to attract anyone interested in aviation and airport architecture. No one was visibly prouder than Meyer himself, who choked up at points during the walkthrough as his on-time and on-budget project dazzled the reporters who were in attendance.

A stunning new check-in hall

From the moment you pull up to the curb, the new Kansas City terminal is a night-and-day improvement compared to the existing facilities.

The soaring high overhang protects the first two drop-off lanes from the elements while also giving flyers a very dramatic welcome.

Stepping inside the beautifully adorned check-in hall brings you into a massive centralized space — a big upgrade in terms of both form and function.

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Previously, each airline was spread out along different parts of the two circular terminals, making it difficult to know where exactly to get dropped off.

Even worse, each small subset of gates had its own security checkpoint, which often experienced bottlenecks. This made it much more challenging to connect between flights.

Fortunately, that’s all history in the new facility since every airline is now under the same roof.

Additionally, with 16 TSA security checkpoints — including priority, TSA PreCheck and Clear — you likely won’t need to worry about lines. All 39 gates are connected post-security, so you won’t have to worry about figuring out which lane to use to get to your flight.


Even the check-in areas have been improved with the addition of larger spaces, digital signage and an upgraded baggage handling system.

Aside from the efficiency improvements, you may feel like you’re in a museum. Everywhere you look, you’ll be mesmerized by the 28 unique art installations that comprise the largest-ever public art program in Kansas City’s history.


Look up in the check-in hall and you’ll find Nick Cave’s “The Air Up There,” which features a plethora of colorful metal spinners that welcome you into the new space.


Enter on the south side of the facility to see “Let the Music Take You” by George Rodriguez. This is a larger-than-life, nine-piece traveling jazz band that pays homage to the region’s jazz history.

If you enter on the north side, you’ll discover “Wings” by John Balistreri. This piece resembles airfoils with subtle designs that reflect the region. For example, there’s a small red Lockheed Vega 5B painted on one of the wings. Turns out, this was the style of plane Amelia Earhart, who grew up in nearby Atchison, Kansas, flew across the Atlantic in 1932.

The north side will also be home to an outdoor water fountain set in the center of three semicircular gardens. The design is a nod to the shape of the old terminal concourses that are set to be demolished in the coming months.


2 main amenity areas

The new Kansas City terminal has a central spine with two amenity areas that each bisects two piers of gates.


After clearing security, you’ll find yourself in the first of two amenity and concessions areas, which was inspired by the downtown jazz music movement of the 1920s and 1930s.


This space is home to a variety of locally inspired and nationally recognized shops and dining outlets, including Parisi Coffee and Meat Mitch, and a few other amenities, such as a business center (available to rent for a yet-to-be-determined fee), a quiet room (open to all) and an air travel experience center (it features a cross-section of a plane to help acclimate infrequent travelers to what to expect during travel).

One of the focal pieces of this space is the “Fountain (KCI)” piece by Leo Villareal. It was designed in tribute to the “City of Fountains” (aka Kansas City). Airport authorities considered installing a real water feature here but decided against it, given the possibility of water damage in the central core of the terminal.


If you’re departing on Delta, Southwest or United, you’ll need to continue down the 630-foot concourse connector that bridges the first amenity node and the second.

Thanks to the moving walkways along the concourse connector, it takes just a few minutes to get to the beginning of the B gates. Some flyers will likely want to stop and enjoy the small interactive Kansas City historical displays, the hanging “Cloud Gazing” artwork by SoftLab’s Michael Szivos and the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Once you make it to the B amenity node, you’ll quickly find yourself in a replica of Kansas City’s popular City Market. Here, you’ll notice a variety of dining establishments, including a City Market Food Hall with local outposts of Bo Lings and Buffalo State Pizza Co. & Bar, a fine-dining restaurant by well-reputed Brown & Loe and even a brand-new Delta Sky Club.

At the back of this amenity node, there’s a Kansas City barbeque experience with a menu designed by team Black Magic, who recently won the Made for KC BBQ Championship.

If you’re wondering why it smells so delicious in this area of the concourse, it’s likely because this barbecue outpost is home to two 2,400-pound smokers.

“Could Kansas City now be home to the best airport barbecue in the country?” That’s the question I asked myself as the smell of slow-cooked meat wafted through the terminal halls.

There may not be a fountain here, but just look up to see “Ornithology” by Willie Cole. This collection of 12 larger-than-life birds was created entirely from alto saxophones and designed in tribute to Charlie “Yardbird” Parker and his 1946 tune titled “Ornithology.”

This City Market-inspired node is also home to a sensory room and an airplane-themed family play zone.

The Sky Club is the airport’s only lounge. However, local authorities have submitted a request for proposal through the Vantage Airport Group for a common-use lounge to be located in the A-north concourse.

Kansas City is using street-based pricing at all of its concessionaires, with most major convenience items pegged to the price of a similar item at the nearby QuikTrip gas station on Northwest Barry Road.

4 piers of gates

Stretching out like two arms at each node are the individual gate concourses.

It’s hard to overstate how much of an improvement these gate areas are compared to the existing facility. Whether it’s the sky-high ceilings, the plethora of natural light, the abundant restrooms or the captivating artwork that you’ll find hanging on the walls, you’ll no doubt feel like you’ve entered a 21st-century facility.

Each gate area also offers an abundance of seats, and some even have coworking tables and bar-style chairs. Aviation enthusiasts will no doubt appreciate the floor-to-ceiling windows, which give you a peek into the airside operations and flood the space with plenty of natural light.

No matter where you sit, you’ll always be within arm’s reach of power. Pick your poison, as there are AC outlets and USB-A and USB-C charging ports available at each seat.

To stay connected, the airport offers free, blazing-fast internet access with download speeds that top 300 Mbps.

Once it’s time to board, you’ll walk down one of 39 glass-lined jet bridges, which were purposely chosen to give flyers a look at what’s going on around them and minimize the sense of claustrophobia that some travelers experience when waiting to get onto the plane.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade is the restroom areas, which feature touchless washing stations (with sloping sinks to avoid spills), a red-green motion-detecting occupancy indicator at each stall and bathroom doors that open outwards to make it easier to enter and exit with a carry-on bag.

In addition to gender-specific restrooms, there are all-gender bathrooms, changing rooms, family restrooms and nursing areas at nearly every major intersection in the new terminal.

The new Kansas City terminal was also designed with accessibility in mind. If you’re dropped off at the departures level, you won’t need to take any stairs or elevators to get to your gate. There’s just one small sloping ramp that leads to each concourse, but it’s a very mild grade.

Though all 39 gates are designed for common use, the four concourses will be split as follows:

  • B-north: Gates B40 to B52, which are for Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.
  • B-south: Gates B54 to B69, which are for Southwest Airlines.
  • A-north: Gates A1 to A10, which are for Alaska Airlines and American Airlines (a so-called Oneworld Alliance wing).
  • A-south: Gates A12 to A20, which are for all other airlines, including arriving international flights.

Welcome to Kansas City, a 21st-century hub

When you arrive at the new Kansas City terminal, you’ll take a set of escalators in the main concourse to get to the baggage claim and ground transportation level.


As you descend, you may be mesmerized by what’s arguably the most visually attractive piece of art in the entire terminal: the colorful glass “Molten Swing” by Soo Sunny Park.


No matter how you look at the piece, it’s sure to sparkle and give off an inviting first impression of Kansas City.


Once downstairs, you’ll pass through an automated set of exit doors to the arrivals level, which features seven domestic baggage claim areas.

International arrivals will park at concourse A south, which is home to a new federal inspection station. There is one baggage claim and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility waiting on the arrivals level just steps from the plane.

Once you collect your bags, you’ll walk outside to the curb to find your transportation.


The closest curb to the arrivals hall will be reserved for private vehicles and commercial traffic, including rental car shuttles. Ride-hailing services will use the outer curb, which is lined from above with the orange-colored “Sky Prairie” artwork by Jill Anholt.

If you decide to park at the airport, you should have no problem finding a spot in the brand-new 6,100-spot parking garage.


Additionally, the four exit vestibules in the arrivals level are marked with the corresponding row letters for the garage, which should help minimize how much walking you’ll need to do to find your car during the cold winter.

Bottom line

The new Kansas City terminal is finally here, and it’s a massive upgrade compared to the existing terminal that was designed for a bygone era in aviation history.

The new facility brings 21st-century conveniences to transform the airport into a modern hub for travelers. It’s the latest in a string of infrastructure improvements for airports nationwide, but it’s perhaps the most thoughtfully designed and beautiful one yet.


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