Alaska Airlines is doubling down on the Missoula market with new daily nonstop flights to San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, opening the city to new business opportunities and global destinations.

The service into California, announced on Tuesday, begins next March and brings to six the number of nonstop destinations offered by Alaska Airlines from Missoula International Airport – the most of any carrier.

“Given the current environment, it’s downright amazing,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “They’ve been good partners and they’re certainly kind of our hometown airlines. It’s nice to see that they’re putting focus on some of the Pacific Northwest and Montana airports, Missoula in particular.”

Last year, the carrier announced initial plans to extend service across the Pacific Northwest by adding eight new flights, which included nonstop service from Missoula to Los Angeles. That service began this March.

In February, the carrier also announced a partnership with American Airlines and the Oneworld Alliance. That will make booking across the two carriers easier and open up new connections, enabling passengers to “start a trip on one airline and end it on another.”

The carrier also is transitioning from its turboprop aircraft to mainline jet service.

“Even as we go through an incredibly challenging moment, we see an opportunity to grow our presence in Missoula, partner closer with the community and provide great service for those living in Montana and those visiting Montana for tourism and business purposes,” said Brett Catlin, managing director of capacity planning and alliances for Alaska Airlines.

Air service across the nation fell sharply when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and Missoula was no exception. But the service has slowly increased in recent months, and Missoula has outpaced the national average with returning passengers.

The airport saw nearly 11,000 passengers in June, and while that represents a marked increase over the prior months when passengers were measured by the hundreds, it’s well short of the 46,000 passengers recorded last June.

But Jensen said the airport’s passengers and carriers remain optimistic.

“This is a use or lose it proposition, as it is with all air service,” Jensen said. “We know San Jose and San Francisco will be good connections to Silicon Valley and some of the business travelers. San Diego is just a great world class destination for people wanting to think about a vacation.”

Jensen said the new flights will need marketing and community support to be successful. The six nonstop destinations poised along the West Coast also presents new opportunities for travelers to reach global destination in a single stop.

“We see as an opportunity to better connect Missoula with many international markets, as well as additional domestic markets,” said Catlin. “The places you'll be able to go on a one-stop basis from Missoula really opens up the globe in a way that wouldn't have been possible before. It's a portfolio effect. That's what gets us excited about doing this all at once.”