Missoula airport sets new passenger record; American moving to morning Dallas flight

Ground crews at Missoula International Airport deice a Delta Airlines flight before its morning departure on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. The airport will end the year with a record number of passengers for the sixth consecutive year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

While fog prompted airlines to cancel five flights into Missoula on Christmas Eve, airport officials said Tuesday that holiday travel went generally well, and that ongoing challenges around parking were resolved.

With 2019 at a close, Missoula International Airport will end the year with a record number of passengers for the sixth consecutive year. Though the official numbers aren’t yet in, the airport expects to see figures up around 7% over last year.

“As we finish up the year, we’re seeing less seats in the market than last year at this time,” airport director Cris Jensen said. “But it will still be a record year, and we’ll still likely finish up somewhere around 7 % over 2018.”

While the number of seats available in the Missoula market is down slightly from this time last year, the airport expects to see available seats increase 6 percent next year.

Alaska Airlines will help drive that increase with daily nonstop service to Los Angeles beginning in March. It also announced plans to upgrade two Missoula flights to Seattle from a turboprop to mainline jet service.

American Airlines will also shift its daily flight from Missoula to Dallas/Fort Worth to a new time in January. The flight will arrive in Missoula at night and leave the next morning.

The airport has seen advanced bookings from Missoula to Dallas double year over year.

“It’ll have an 8 a.m. departure starting on Jan. 7,” said deputy airport director Brian Ellestad. “It’s a great time to catch those connections in Dallas. It’ll be a nice addition to our winter schedule.”

While snowfall in Missoula has been scant this winter, fog over the busy holiday travel season prompted airlines to cancel five flights into the city.

The airport believes the cancellations were more related to weather elsewhere in the county than in Missoula. Airlines worked to place aircraft in strategic locations to deal with weather elsewhere in the country.

“It was an unfortunate circumstance where we had a fog event of a relatively short duration, but it happened to fall at the wrong time,” Jensen said. “We did have our staff doing fog seeding, and reports were that we had good impacts in punching a hole in it. But airlines were proactive in their cancellations.”