Despite the beloved island charm of Key West International Airport, the days of passengers walking across the tarmac when arriving and departing soon will be gone.

Richard Strickland, Monroe County airports director, presented plans at a meeting on April 27 for a new concourse at the Key West airport that will include a new security checkpoint, new gates, a new “hold room” for departing passengers, new concessions, a new baggage claim area and glass-enclosed jet bridges, or jetways, to connect the planes with the building. 

The targeted completion date is October 2024.

“There will be much more space to spread out and the new design overall will enhance the customer experience and the services we can provide,” Strickland told the crowd of about 75 people at the Marriott Beachside Hotel. “People won’t all be crunched together and on top of each other while waiting to depart or while waiting for their baggage. It’s the right amount of facility for the projected numbers of passengers we’re dealing with.”

Richard Strickland, Monroe County airports director, presents renderings of the new concourse at Key West airport that is slated for completion in October 2024. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Strickland estimated the final price tag of the new concourse to be “south of $80 million,” but none of it will be from local taxpayers, Strickland said.

“It’s true, and that’s important,” Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron told the Keys Weekly the morning after the meeting. “This project will be funded entirely with federal aviation grants and user fees paid by airline passengers.”

Coldiron said the county commissioners have been hearing updates about the expansion project during their regular meetings, and public input is always welcome.

“I completely understand. We all don’t want things enclosed, and we like our small-town airport, but it really is a liability issue, having people walk outside and across the tarmac,” Coldiron said.

Despite the popularity of Key West’s outdoor airport, the new concourse will feature glass-enclosed bridges, or jetways, to facilitate arrivals and departures. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Concerns from the crowd on April 27 centered on the impacts of the guest experience during construction, as well as general concerns about the constant increase of tourists and airplanes coming to Key West.

“How much is too much?” former city commissioner and Duval Street bar owner Mark Rossi asked during the meeting. “It’s a quality of life issue, Mr. Director, and I’m putting you on notice. I feel like I live at an airport with planes coming and going constantly. When is enough going to be enough? I’m not opposed to tourism, obviously, but come on.”

Strickland acknowledged that “phasing will be critical to minimize the impacts during construction,” and said that “air travel is considered interstate commerce, which is protected by federal law. So I can’t tell an airline, ‘No, you can’t fly in here.’”

Another attendee complained that planes never used to take off before 7 a.m., “but now I’m woken every morning at 6:08 a.m.”

Strickland said, “We don’t get to tell the airlines when they can come and go, but we can try to work with them. And we’re going to be holding noise meetings in the coming months to look at maps and noise impacts.”

Key West resident Tony Falcone asked Strickland if the expansion plans could include extended awnings over the passenger drop-off and pick-up spots outside. “Right now, when you’re departing Key West, or when you first arrive, and it’s raining, you’re loading and unloading your luggage in the rain, because the curbside areas aren’t covered, as they are at all other airports.”

Strickland said he would look into that request.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.