I think the reason that talk of a potential hub at KCI won’t go away is that most people prefer non-stop flights. I do too. And perhaps there is a belief in some circles that visions of non-stop flights to every corner of the universe will be so powerful that people will be carried off, non-stop, to approval of the single-terminal proposal.
But first, we should make a connecting stop with some facts. First of all, with airline consolidation, airlines are eliminating hubs not adding them. And unless you are a major market like Atlanta or Chicago with enough originating passengers to attract MULTIPLE hubs, they can be catastrophic to airfares and airports.
There is an excellent piece in Show-Me Daily by Patrick Tuohey. (Mr. Tuohey is also the person who Councilman Russ Johnson cut-off at the airport hearing saying that hearings were for comments and not questions.) In the article, Mr. Tuohey examines what happened in Cincinnati when they spent $500 million on a terminal to land a hub for Delta.
In recent interviews I have related my personal experiences with Delta’s Cincinnati hub and his article is spot-on. I used to travel to Cincinnati for meetings but would continue to Columbus to save money. A LOT of money. Yes, I would fly from KC to Cincinnati and then make a connection on to Columbus and then rent a car and drive back to Cincy. The round-trip fare from Kansas City to Cincinnati was a little over $500. But if I continued on to Columbus, the price was $161 plus about $100 for the car rental for two days. And it was the same coming the other way. A Cincinnati passenger could save nearly $350 per trip by driving to Columbus and then flying back to Cincinnati to catch the same flight to KC.
And while this may seem like a the exception (both the fare differences and the extra effort to save), according to Mr. Tuohey’s article, it’s pretty common:
You can see those extra charges reflected in the sky-high fares at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, a Delta hub and winner of the top spot in Forbes’s 2009 list of “rip-off airports.” Last year, an average ticket out of the airport cost $526, compared with $372 in nearby Dayton, Ohio, and $387 in Indianapolis. International flights averaged $1,408, 36 percent more than the national average. Is the airport really a reason to relocate to the area, as businesses often claim? The Cincinnati Business Courier found that three-quarters of the Cincinnati firms it surveyed were flying employees out of the Dayton airport, more than an hour away by car. “Unless you’re suffering from delusion, you realize that the Cincinnati airport is now really in Dayton,” aviation expert Darryl Jenkins told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Similarly, a 2006 study found that nearly one-fifth of local fliers drove to other airports to avoid the hub’s high prices. Delta is now reducing flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, and passenger traffic at the airport is down 65 percent since 2005.
Cincinnati and KC are similar in size so this is a realistic comparison. When a hub moves in to a middle-market airport, competition is squeezed out and with it, competitive fares. So in addition to the increased airfares, parking fees and $12 hot dogs that will already be necessary to pay for a new terminal, a hub would likely send those fares non-stop through the roof.
And as noted before, even though proponents of the proposed design say they hope to attract a hub with it, the design itself is about 30 gates short of what would be needed for a hub. And thus, we cannot build a hub for the proposed $1.2 billion even if we wanted one. Figure an expanded design with even longer, less convenient terminal wings and about $2 billion +/-.
I won’t speculate as to why some proponents of the single-terminal proposal are painting fantasy images of a hub airport knowing that their proposed design and price could not deliver one and even if it could, it would likely be disastrous. I will however cite one of my favorite quotes:
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke
Photo credit: Bleacher Report