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UPDATE: Chick-fil-A has been removed from the list of potential restaurants in the new KCI airport terminal after pushback at a Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee meeting.
A plan unveiled last week to include Chick-fil-A alongside a mix of local and national restaurants inside the new Kansas City International (KCI) airport terminal is causing concern among LGBTQ advocates, who say it betrays the terminal’s inclusive ideals.
On Thursday, Kansas City officials named Vantage Airport Group of Vancouver, Canada, as the recommended concessions operator for KCI’s $1.5 billion new terminal. Vantage’s preliminary plan made public at a City Council business session included Chick-fil-A.
Previously, the new terminal had been lauded by local advocates for its steps toward greater inclusivity, including gender-inclusive restrooms.
But now those advocates say those steps feel hollow. The LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City, Missouri, released a letter to the city Monday calling on elected officials to remove Chick-fil-A from consideration.
“For the past six to eight months we’ve been putting out these inclusivity talking points, about having the most progressive airport in the country, and now we’re throwing Chick-fil-A in there,” said Justin Short, a representative on Kansas City’s LGBTQ Commission. “You know you can’t do both.”
Chick-fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, made headlines in 2012 when he said same-sex marriage would bring “God’s judgement on our nation.” He has since continued to donate to the National Christian Charitable Foundation, which funded opposition to the Equality Act, a bill in Congress that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in many aspects of U.S. life. The private company itself halted donations to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 2019 after repeated backlash.
Chick-fil-A has a history of controversy in airport locations
Nineteen states have at least one airport with a Chick-fil-A, according to the chain’s website. Missouri currently has no Chick-fil-A restaurants in its airports. There is one in the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Kansas.
In 2019, the city of San Antonio blocked Chick-fil-A from opening a location in its airport, citing the company’s history of anti-LGBTQ donations. As a result, Texas lawmakers passed what was nicknamed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill, prohibiting government agencies from punishing those who affiliate with or donate to religious organizations.
After an investigation was opened by federal aviation authorities, the city agreed to offer the chain a spot at the airport. Chick-fil-A declined.
Weeks after San Antonio’s initial decision, Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York also nixed plans for a Chick-fil-A location. The Federal Aviation Administration opened another investigation, but its findings have not been released and there is not a Chick-fil-A in the terminal.
Justin Meyer, deputy director of the Kansas City Aviation Department, said the department and selection committee had multiple conversations with Vantage Airport Group over its proposal to include a Chick-fil-A before it was announced publicly.
“I believe that Vantage is receptive to those concerns and potential requests for alterations,” he said. “The Aviation Department is really proud of the relationships we’ve developed with the LGBTQ Commission, so we understand the priorities that that group has and share those priorities.”
Members of the LGBTQ Commission said they were not informed that Chick-fil-A was on the table as an option at the new airport until they began receiving emails from concerned residents.
Chick-fil-A Sunday closures pose challenges for airport profits
Chick-fil-A also poses a unique challenge to airport profits. All of its locations are closed on Sundays, including those in airports. The practice began in 1946 with the chain’s founder.
But Sundays are one of the busiest days for airport traffic, and a dark restaurant would bring a loss of revenue.
“If you have a concessionary that’s not open on a Sunday at an airport, from a business standpoint alone that seems moronic,” Short said.
The closure has caused frustration at other airports, such as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. MSP has strict rules requiring all restaurant operators to operate 365 days a year, and Chick-fil-A is the only exception. That has raised the ire of other restaurants in the terminal that have to abide by the rules, according to reporting by the Star Tribune.
Vantage estimated its plan would bring an estimated $1.5 billion in concession sales over the course of the contract, $250 million of which would go towards the Kansas City Aviation Department and $50 million of which would be collected under the city’s sales tax.
Meyer said Vantage proposed opening the Chick-fil-A location as a storefront for a different vendor on Sundays to prevent a loss of profit from that $250 million. It was unclear which storefront would take over on Sundays.
“The proposer certainly acknowledged the issue of not being open on one of the busiest travel days of the year,” Meyer said. They “were recommending some sort of alternative storefront on a Sunday so that square footage and that retail space could be repurposed on Sundays.”
KC Chick-fil-A restaurant plans not set in stone
There is no guarantee that Chick-fil-A or any other of Vantage’s proposed restaurants will be in the terminal when it opens to the public in 2023. The concession plan must still be evaluated by a City Council committee and voted on by the full council.
The public will have a chance at the committee meeting to comment on the plan, including whether or not to move forward with a Chick-fil-A storefront. The ordinance is expected to be heard by the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Operations committee Wednesday— people can follow the ordinance on the city clerk’s website.
“If our voices aren’t heard, if we continue to move forward with an organization that’s been so hurtful to the LGBTQ community across the country, then they can go ahead and pack this all-inclusive title for the airport away,” said Justice Horn, vice-chair of the LGBTQ Commission.
The Chick-fil-A proposal isn’t the only objection raised over Vantage’s proposed mix of restaurants. Some Northland residents and leaders have expressed their frustration at not being better represented in the terminal.
“The Northland yesterday in the meeting was saying, ‘Well, we don’t have any representation of the Northland,’” Short pointed out. “OK, let’s kill the Chick-fil-A and get in a Nicky’s Pizza or something.”
Vantage Airport Group’s proposal states that 80% of the businesses it places in the airport will be local. Horn said that scrapping plans for Chick-fil-A could create an opportunity to support a local business from a marginalized community.
“We would now have an open slot for a Black-owned business, for a queer-owned business, or Black queer-owned business to instead be in that place,” Horn said. “That is even more powerful.”
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