Also known as MCI (an abbreviation derived from the airport’s earlier moniker, the Mid-Continent International Airport), this international hub is located 15 miles northwest of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. MCI served 10.47 million passengers in 2015, and the mid-size airport hosts daily flights on Southwest and Delta, its two largest carriers.
Kansas City’s first airfields were destroyed in the Great Flood of 1951. At the time, Trans World Airlines’ main repair and overhaul base was located in Fairfax Airport in Kansas City, Kansas—a former B-25 bomber factory. They agreed to move their base (as well as commercial flights) to the newly built airport, Mid-Continent International, which opened in 1956. It was originally named after the site’s rough geological roots—the mid-continent oil field, a broad area that encompasses hundreds of smaller fields across Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas—but was renamed in 1972 to reflect the city it served.
The airport’s three terminals (a series of rings) were built that same year, and much of the design was determined by TWA. Travelers will find short-term parking in the center, which allows passengers to be dropped off directly at their gate. Built before the widespread adoption of security checkpoints, the lack of a centralized entryway meant that checkpoints had to be set up at each gate, and that passenger services like shops, bathrooms, and food, were unavailable in the secured areas. After the airport was completed, TWA asked for permission to rebuild the terminals to fix these problems, but Kansas City, having gone over budget on a brand new—if flawed—facility said no.
TWA then moved its hub to Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport in Missouri. An extensive 2004 renovation addressed some, but not all, of these design challenges. It remains unpopular with frequent flyers for its general layout and limited food options (you won’t find any of the city’s famed barbecue here). Fortunately, frequent and free buses take passengers around the rings. Metro buses and shuttle services also ferry passengers to and from downtown.