Lovell Holloway in the new KCI airport terminal.
Lovell Holloway is the general manager for Vantage Airport Group, the lead developer of the airport’s concessions. Vantage is looking to provide 1,000 concessions jobs throughout its 15-year contract. (Christopher Smith/The Beacon)

If hiring goes according to plan, food and retail businesses in the new terminal of Kansas City International Airport will employ 1,000 workers over the next 15 years. 

But so far, five months after the terminal opened in February, employers at MCI are hundreds of workers shy of that goal.

There are 600 employees at businesses in MCI, said Lovell Holloway, general manager for Vantage Airport Group, the lead developer of the airport’s concessions. Vantage, which signed a 15-year contract with the Kansas City Aviation Department in 2021, initially retained 170 food and retail employees from the old KCI terminals, about 30 people shy of the worker retention goal, he said.  

There are enough employees on board to keep things running smoothly, Holloway said. 

“We’re solid with that,” he said of concessions staffing, “but we’re always looking for awesome and amazing people.”  

More than 1 million passengers moved through KCI in May alone — a level of traffic not seen since October 2019. And with nearly 5 million passengers so far this year, the airport’s new and upgraded facilities have been put to the test, especially the restaurants. 

Since the new terminal opened, 1.8 million customers have spent about $25 million at the restaurants, Holloway said.

How many employees does the new airport terminal need? 

The businesses in the new terminal need workers to meet the demands of those customers. 

But the hiring goal of 800 new employees doesn’t reflect the number of employees needed on average, Holloway said. Vantage works with businesses to figure out their respective needs.

“Individual concessionaires have different times when they need people based on full-time or part-time, hours of the day, those types of things,” Holloway said.

The seasonality of airport traffic or business also affects the need for workers. Challenges with employee attrition are persistent hurdles in the restaurant industry, he said.

The new MCI airport terminal has 50 food and retail operators, a stark contrast to the sparse dining options offered in the previous terminals.

The typical starting wage for food and retail employees at the businesses in the new terminal is $16 an hour, Holloway said. The state minimum wage is $12. But no amount of employee recruitment can account for circumstantial factors that lead to the occasional slow day, such as employees being late or calling off schedule, he said. 

Vantage, along with the Kansas City Aviation Department, will host a job fair on Aug. 15 in the baggage claim area of KCI. Employers are hiring for retail jobs as well as positions such as traffic control and bus operators. 

Some workers and patrons say they’ve had a good experience at new terminal

Anthony Hugo flew to Warsaw, Poland, out of KCI in June. While waiting in the concourse, he purchased snacks from City Market Retail, a shop stocked with products from local vendors. 

There were “more than enough” employees to serve customers, Hugo said, noting his transaction took five minutes. 

Hugo’s experience aligns with Vantage’s service time standards, which are set to ensure passengers can quickly reach the gate for their flight. Two to five minutes is the range for walk-up retail, Vantage representatives said. Quick-service food should take five to eight minutes, and service for sit-down meals should fall within 10 to 17 minutes, depending on the order. 

 While quick service appeals to patrons, owner support and camaraderie matter to at least one employee in the new terminal.

 Matthew Mahowski has been a bartender at the KCI airport for 30 years. (Christopher Smith/The Beacon)

“When we first opened, the owners came in and helped set up for six weeks,” said Matthew Mahowski, a bartender at Stockyards Brewing Co., a Kansas City-based brewery. 

Mahowski was a bartender at the old MCI airport for 30 years, and he was among the employees who transferred to the new terminal.

“I like working at a place where they really care.”

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MILI MANSARAY is the housing and labor reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. Previously, she was a freelance reporter and Summer 2020 intern.