After a Slump, Kansas City is Climbing

The airport has recovered from the turbulence of 9/11 and the loss of Vanguard.


The newest entrant at KCI will be ExpressJet next week, the first new carrier at KCI since 2002. ExpressJet will be an all-regional jet operation that will offer 50-seat flights to Austin, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; and Ontario, Calif., near Los Angeles.

The carrier has said it plans to add nonstop flights later in the spring to cities such as Louisville, Ky., Jacksonville, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C. Shortly after ExpressJet made its plans public, American Eagle, American's regional service, said it would start flying Kansas City-Raleigh in May.

A fare trade-off

Earlier this month, Meyer attended a networking conference among airport officials and airlines as cities vie for new service. Meyer found himself in the unusual position of not seeking out an airline to introduce a nonstop flight to one of KCI's 30 most popular destinations. Kansas City now has nonstop service to its 30 most popular cities. When American Eagle and ExpressJet begin flying to Raleigh, the top 40 cities will have nonstop KCI service.

"There aren't a whole lot of holes to fill on our route system right now," Meyer said. "That's pretty good, especially when you consider we're a nonhub airport."

Kansas City's nonhub status may have worked in its favor in attracting more flights in recent months.

St. Louis was the envy of the Kansas City business community when Trans World Airlines decided to make Lambert-St. Louis International its hub in the 1980s. After American acquired TWA and downsized operations there after 9/11, Lambert went from being the 10th-busiest airport a decade ago to No. 32 now, just two slots ahead of KCI.

"You've got people driving in from Topeka, Wichita and Nebraska to fly out of Kansas City," said Trippler of MyVacationPassport.com. "Kansas City's airport seems to be going in a different direction from St. Louis', which has had some setbacks."

For Meyer, the networking conferences are an opportunity to find carriers that want to compete in certain markets to help lower prices at KCI.

"Other than the airport, there are other things I can pitch to them now, like the Sprint Center, the downtown revitalization and the World War I museum," he said. "We also want to make sure all our airlines are happy with their traffic and that they are profitable routes."

Although KCI is still considered a relatively cheap airport to fly from, average one-way fares did increase in the 2006 third quarter to $148.73, a 6.2 percent jump from the same time in 2005.

Nevertheless, that was less than the U.S. average increase of 8.1 percent. Kansas City has consistently remained among the 20 cheapest airports in the country. Besides, the trade-off between slightly higher ticket prices and having more nonstop flights to most of the country's metropolitan areas is one most frequent travelers are willing to make.

"We were actually discussing that a recent staff meeting -- about being able to get to a lot more cities directly than we used to," said Gregory, TalentSecure's director of sales and business development. "I certainly prefer nonstops instead of changing planes at a hub. There's less chance they can lose your bags."

To reach Randolph Heaster, call (816) 234-4746 or send e-mail to rheaster@kcstar.com.

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