The item at Thursday's Hays City Commission meeting that garnered the most attention was one that hadn't even made it to the agenda.
And even though some say change is good, the jury is out whether SkyWest Airlines' unexpected flight-time adjustments at Hays Regional Airport will be considered positive. City Manager Toby Dougherty delivered the news about moving the current 6:40 a.m. departure to Denver back to around 10 a.m. The new schedule will take effect in March.
Dougherty attempted to keep things in perspective while relaying the information to commissioners.
"It is unlike Great Lakes, where we dealt with unreliable service," Dougherty said. "We're still going to have the service (with SkyWest). Times just might not be as optimal."
There is no doubt SkyWest has been delivering far superior service than Great Lakes Airlines ever did. The former carrier's cancellations and delays rate reached 61 percent before it ended service to Hays early in March. SkyWest, which took over the route Aug. 1, registered an 85-percent on-time record in its first month of operations.
That change was necessary, appreciated -- and it has continued. Delays/cancellations were 16 percent in September, then down to 7 percent in October.
The flying public has taken notice. The number of enplanements in September were the highest they'd been since 2011. October numbers hadn't been seen since 2008, prompting the Airport Advisory Committee to report "SkyWest feels much better about the number of passengers than they did a month ago."
Passenger counts are not available for November yet, but on-time percentages went down. While the 22 percent delay/cancellations remains above industry averages, it was the worst performance SkyWest has delivered thus far. We hope it will be a blip in an otherwise good service trend.
More concerning, however, is the elimination of that early-morning flight to Denver. It is a far more popular ride than the afternoon flight. Dougherty said 34 percent more people catch the 6:40 plane.
It makes sense; arriving in Colorado earlier allows passengers to catch flights to most anywhere United goes. Not getting there until mid-afternoon will make connections heading east particularly difficult.
"We're going to do whatever we can to try and change it," Dougherty said.
Steady increases, even if they are not eye-popping, should be rewarded. The 20-percent jump since Aug. 1 is not the doubling SkyWest might have been hoping for, but we remind SkyWest of their own words when taking over the Hays route.
"Hays travelers taking advantage of this new service will enjoy a new connection to an unmatched global network," said Mike Thompson, SkyWest Airlines vice president of Market Development.
Unfortunately, half the flights in that network will have departed Denver by the time Hays passengers arrive in the afternoon.
We hope the airline isn't rethinking its decision in any manner. It is far too early to expect all area passengers to have erased the bad taste of Great Lakes Airlines from their mouths.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry