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Boise, second Portland flight on Missoula’s radar

Cris Jensen, director of the Missoula International Airport (left) and deputy director Brian Ellestad recently returned from Seattle where they met with Alaska Airlines. Both were encouraged by the meeting and said the airline remains happy with Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Alaska Airlines may consider adding a second daily flight from Missoula to Portland and could explore direct service to Boise, opening additional routes for Missoula travelers into California, airport officials said Tuesday.

They also said service on American Airlines to Dallas/Fort Worth could possibly start next summer, though such an arrangement is far from being finalized.

Cris Jensen, director of the Missoula International Airport and deputy director Brian Ellestad recently returned from Seattle where they met with Alaska Airlines. Both were encouraged by the meeting and said the airline remains happy with Missoula.

“It looks like we’ll continue to have our fourth daily Seattle flight, and we did push a little bit for more frequency both to Seattle and Portland,” Jensen said. “We also proposed a Missoula to Boise flight. We think that would do pretty well, and I was pleased to see that they actually responded pretty favorably.”

From Boise, Alaska Airlines provides service to a number of destinations not flown from Missoula, including Reno, Nevada; and Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose, California.

Jensen said service from Missoula would help enhance Alaska’s flights to other markets.

“What we heard them saying is there’s actually a little bit more demand there than there was,” said Jensen. “That doesn’t mean they’ll fly it, but we’re going to see if we can incentivize them into wanting to do it, maybe starting off on a seasonal basis.”

It’s the same strategy Missoula airport officials applied to get Alaska Airlines to begin service to Portland. That began as a seasonal route just three months of the year but is now year-round with the potential of a second daily flight.

The meeting in Seattle was precipitated in part by Alaska Airlines’ recenter merger with Virgin America.

“It would be an easy way for them to enhance the volume to those existing places,” said Ellestad. “It’s free aircraft time with a plane that’s just going to overnight here anyway.”

During a meeting with the Montana High Tech Business Alliance last week, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport Director Brian Sprenger said there was a “high likelihood” that American Airlines will begin serving Missoula with nonstop service to Dallas/Fort Worth next year.

The airline opened the route in Bozeman last year and the two cities – Bozeman and Missoula – have been working collaboratively to bring American into the market. Jensen is confident that Missoula could support the service.

“Today if somebody asked me, I’d feel comfortable saying it’s not an if, but when American enters our market,” Jensen said. “It’s the same challenge we have with all of our airline meetings. The airlines have a limited number of airplanes, and they have to make decisions on where to put those airplanes. But we feel like we’ve been moving up the list.”

Jensen said it took Bozeman several years to land service with American. In Missoula, it took upward of five years after meeting with Frontier Airlines before it launched nonstop service to Denver.

“If you think about it, a year-and-a-half ago we hadn’t even met with American,” Jensen said. “It’s tough sometimes to get a meeting with an airline. By collaborating with Bozeman, we were able to get that meeting done. We’re still hopeful and optimistic they’ll be in the market.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com