On Saturday, Liam Dai will board an airplane at Kansas City International Airport for his first flight out of the country.
A first trip overseas is an experience all its own, but for Dai, a 2018 Park Hill South High School graduate and self-described aviation enthusiast, he's embarking on a bit of Kansas City history.
Dai and fellow travelers on Saturday will take the inaugural Icelandair flight from Kansas City to Iceland capital Reykjavik, marking the first regularly scheduled nonstop transatlantic flight from KCI.
"Being able to say I was on the first flight from Kansas City to Europe was something I couldn't pass up," Dai said.
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Kansas City officials, joined by Icelandair executives, will be on hand Saturday afternoon to send off the Reykjavik-bound flight. They see Kansas City's first transatlantic flight both as a convenience for leisure travelers but also a better connection for Kansas City to the international business world and a prospect for more flights overseas.
"If Kansas City is truly going to compete for the best companies and best talent, better air service matters," said Tim Cowden, chief executive of the Kansas City Area Development Council, who will join Dai and others on Saturday's flight. "Other airlines that offer transatlantic service are watching closely how the Icelandair flight performs. I have no doubt that the KC market is going to support this flight and it will solidify Icelandair's commitment to our market."
The first Icelandair flight from Reykjavik was scheduled to arrive in Kansas City Friday.
From Kansas City, one eastbound flight leaves each Saturday, Monday and Wednesday with return flights occurring the following day. It's a seasonal route that ends at the end of September. The flight is roughly seven hours.
Icelandair officials declined to reveal specifics on how bookings on the transatlantic flight have fared so far, but offered optimism about its performance.
"It is in line with what we expected," Icelandair chief executive Björgólfur Jóhannsson told The Star. "It always takes time to market the route like that. We are quite optimistic that this will absolutely be a good route for us."
KCI has been promoting the idea of a transatlantic flight for at least 10 years. It hit the mark with Icelandair, which believed Kansas City was a market ready for a route to Reykjavik.
"We are always looking for new cities in the United States to serve," Jóhannsson said. "We actually found that Kansas (City) was underserved in connections to Europe, so we say it was a no-brainer for Icelandair to start this operation."
Icelandair's service to Kansas City is being marketed largely as an easier connection for travelers headed to continental Europe and beyond. It skips having to make connections from Dallas, Minneapolis, Chicago or Eastern Seaboard cities.
An average of 300 travelers begin their trip across the Atlantic Ocean from KCI each day, according to airport estimates.
Iceland officials also hope that Kansas Citians will be keen on visiting Iceland as tourists.
"It's become big business," said Geir Haarde, Iceland ambassador to the United States and former Iceland Prime Minister from 2006 to 2009. "There's been big growth in the Iceland tourism industry in the last 10 years. We always had tourism, but it really took off in the past five years."
Icelandair has a two-year commitment to serve Kansas City. Jóhannsson said the airline could consider making what's now a seasonal flight into year-round service if bookings are encouraging.
"It is always our aim to make it a whole year destination," Jóhannsson said. "It depends on demand. If the demand is good, we might start a year-round operation."