Hobbs News-Sun, Kimberly Ryan, Associated Press
This 2011 photo shows United Airlines employees awaiting the arrival of the first flight in to Lea County Airport in Hobbs, N.M. The air service between the two cities makes it much easier for cancer and other medical patients to get to Houston where world renowned hospitals like the MD Anderson hospital can provide the cutting edge in cancer treatment.

HOBBS, N.M. — While the contract with Continental Airlines to provide air service from Hobbs to Houston was planned around boosting the area's economy, the air service has come with an unexpected benefit.

"This wasn't something we planned," said David Jett, director of marketing and public relations for the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County, "but it has turned out to be a great thing for a lot of people here in Lea County."

The benefit is that the air service makes it much easier for cancer and other medical patients to get to Houston where world renowned hospitals like the MD Anderson hospital can provide the cutting edge in cancer treatment.

"I have heard quite a few people comment on it," Jett said. "Most of all it is just the convenience of no drive and being able to come home and be in bed in a few hours."

Hobbs resident Bruce Keen, 54, knows first-hand how the flights to Houston are a godsend for cancer patients. Keen is a stage four colon cancer survivor and the flights make his quarterly trips to Houston much easier.

"It has helped me a lot," Keen said. "Before we were driving down there or driving to Lubbock. These flights sure make it a lot easier. It is a blessing."

Keen must make his quarterly trips to MD Anderson for testing and luckily his tumors have shrunk and he is doing well, but even without chemotherapy treatments or radiation in Houston, the trips were weary even when flying out of Lubbock.

"It is stressful. Extremely stressful," he said. "It was just horrible having to drive it the first few times. Now in one hour and I am here and 10 minutes later I am home. I love it."

The flights out of Hobbs not only save Keen time and stress, but also money.

"The last time I went it was $99 each way," he said. "I was paying the same thing through Southwest and drive two hours to Lubbock. I am saving four hours of drive time. Southwest may be about $50 cheaper, but for four hours driving it isn't worth it."

Not to mention figuring in the cost of fuel and parking in Lubbock, Keen said.

"It is a lot easier flying out of Hobbs," he said. "Free parking and I can be there in 10 minutes and you can walk across the parking lot in 2 minutes. It is a no-brainer."

Keen, who works for Schlumberger, said the air service is also great for people living outside of Hobbs.

"We have a lot of people driving over from Roswell to use the airline to fly to Houston," he said.

Information from: Hobbs News-Sun, http://www.hobbsnews.com