Passengers arriving Wednesday evening at Hays Regional Airport seemed bewildered at the large crowd greeting them, but all became clear within moments when a final passenger entered the terminal.
The jolly man in the red suit was none other than Santa Claus, but he wasn’t the only one spreading cheer. Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Melissa Dixon announced a proposal to add an eastbound flight from the airport.
Many of the adults in the crowd cheered the news as children lined up to sit on Santa’s lap and made crafts at the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce after-hours Santa fly-in with the CVB and Rans Aircraft.
SkyWest provides service to Denver subsidized by the federal government’s Essential Air Service.
Boarding numbers at Hays Regional Airport have been lagging below the annual goal of 10,000 passengers that would make the city eligible for much more federal funding.
An eastbound flight has been desired for some time, according to surveys by the CVB and city.
“The struggle is nobody wants to go west to go east. They feel like they’re wasting time,” Dixon said.
“In our airport reports that we had done, we can see that Chicago is one of the top final destinations for people flying out of Hays,” she said.
Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is listed on SkyWest's website as one of its destinations, but neither Dixon nor Hays Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tammy Wellbrock could say Wednesday if that would be the destination of a flight from Hays.
The proposed flight would originate in Denver with stops in Hays and Salina before proceeding to Chicago.
Both directors said if the Chicago flight became reality, they would expect it to boost the boarding numbers and benefit the community.
The airport “does bring in guests, and they come here and they spend their money,” Wellbrock said. “And it helps us recruit new people and just retain a quality of life that we’re accustomed to here.”
The chamber and CVB will draft letters of support for the proposal.
Hays Mayor Shaun Musil said he anticipates a letter of support will come forth at today’s 6:30 p.m. Hays City Commission meeting, noting he believes the move would be a “ huge win” for the community.
“The city is 100 percent behind it,” Musil said Wednesday evening. “If we get it going to Chicago, that is a huge win for us. I think it would put us over the point of the 10,000 boardings.”
Watch for updates on the proposal at HDNews.net and in The Hays Daily News.
— Hays Daily News Reporter Kaley Conner contributed to this report.