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Transportation

New Terminal Opens At Eisenhower National Airport

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Sean Sandefur
/
KMUW

The brand new terminal at the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport officially opened this morning. Between the last flight at the old terminal and the first flight at the new one, employees closed down food stalls, moved computers and organized a parade of planes to their new gates. KMUW’s Sean Sandefur got a behind the scenes look last night and has this report…

A few planes are sitting beside their gates at the old terminal, which, for most of its history, was named Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. The sun is setting, and workers in bright orange and yellow vests dart across the tarmac.

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Credit Sean Sandefur
The sun sets over the old terminal Tuesday evening.

For decades, this was Kansas’ busiest terminal. But that distinction will now belong to a bigger, shinier and more presidential one just a stone’s throw away.

As the last planes lift off into the now much darker sky. The tarmac grows a bit quieter, a bit calmer. But inside, there’s still fun to be had.

“Well, I’m taking out all the network and computer cables,” says John Mosure, an employee with IT company DecisionOne, which looks after United Airlines’ computers. “We’re going to move it over to the new terminal and reinstall it.”

Mosure is sitting cross-legged on the ground; sweat is dripping down from his shaved head. Behind him passengers are boarding U.S. Airways flight 640; it will be the last flight to depart from this gate, and as that happens, Mosure starts to transfer all the technology over to the new terminal.

“You know, it’s a little dirty, a little high pressure,” he says. “Gotta get it done by the morning. Gotta be ready by 4:30 in morning, so a little bit of pressure.”

Mosure says that even with a three-year eviction notice, some things have to come down to the wire.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do in advance, because they’re using the airport,” he says. “We moved some non-essential stuff a couple of days ago, training machines and some back office stuff. But all the ticket counters, the gates, you have to wait till the last minute.”

While these older-model computers and seemingly endless string of wires will reprise their roles at the new terminal, there are some items -- and people -- that won’t.

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Credit Sean Sandefur
Keith Gunnells

Keith Gunnells, a supervisor at the Great American Bagel Bakery, is one of those people. He’s managed the restaurant here for 17 years, but says his parent company didn’t renew its contract with the new terminal.

“We’re just trying to get out of here tonight,” he says as he hastily wraps up cheese, bread and tomatoes in plastic food containers. “We’re going to pack everything up, wipe everything down. I just didn’t know we’d go out like this.”

Gunnells says he’d thought he’d be able to retire at this job. Some of his workers have found employment at food vendors in the new terminal, but not him.

“What it means for me is that I’m going to take a two-week vacation—I’ve always had a week here, a few days here—but I’m going to take two whole weeks,” he says. “And then…I’ll go from there.”

His final shift has ended on a high note. When a flight made an emergency landing for medical reasons, his shop stayed open after hours so waiting passengers could get something to eat.

“My (coworker) has been up here by herself for almost an hour,” he says. “And so I came to check on her and she had a big line. So we just pitched in, got everything done and they’re happy.”

In With The New

After a 5-minute walk over the tarmac, the futuristic looking, $200 million new terminal is buzzing with people who are truly burning the midnight oil. Pat McCollom is project manager for Eisenhower National Airport.

“We have a punch list still remaining on this: just trim-work, some painting here and there,” McCollom says. “So, you know, it’s really kind of the little touches.”

McCollom says Wednesday’s transition has been a long time coming.

“For me, I’ve been here four years working simply on this. For a lot of the team, it’s been 10-plus years. The general contractor here has been here for 2 and a half years,” he says. “So we have 29 different stakeholders involved right now in this final push. Everybody is very excited.”

As McCollom walks off to divvy out various tasks, the smell of doughnuts lingers in the air. The source can be found directly in front of gate six, where a Dunkin' Donuts is brightly lit.

Head baker Rachel Parker says she had to be at work at 7 p.m. Tuesday to bake donuts for the airport’s grand opening.

Parker and her staff will bake 250 dozen donuts before they open for customers around 4 a.m. The shelves will be stocked with glazed, iced, and jelly stuffed varieties, as well as donut holes. The Dunkin' Donut staff are used to working the overnight shift – they’re “third-shifters here,” Parker says.

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Credit Sean Sandefur
Chairs sit on the table tops of a shared cafeteria with Dunkin' Donuts and Chik-fil-A

Tonight, however, everyone is a third-shifter. There are TSA agents testing out their full body scanners and conveyor belts. Custodians—too many to count—go up and down the terminal, polishing everything from handrails to the automated ticket kiosks in the lobby.

Roughly 6 hours later, the new terminal sees its first departing flight at 5:22 AM. There were a few minor hiccups leading up to it, like a stubborn escalator that wouldn’t get going and some uncooperative light fixtures. But in the end, United Airlines flight 6399 filled up with passengers, and the new terminal is officially a working airport.

The passengers are likely unaware of the giant transformation that was all put together the night before.

The old terminal will eventually be razed, with continued expansion in mind.

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To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Follow Sean Sandefur on Twitter @SeanSandefur