Passengers, routes slowly returning to Missoula airport as carriers gain ground

Commercial air service at Missoula International Airport is ticking back up and flights are slowly returning, though airport officials said it will take time for things to return to normal.

The airport continues to trend just ahead of national figures in passenger counts, which now average around 25% of normal. Over the Memorial Day weekend the average was around 15% of normal.

“We are continuing to see passenger numbers return, but we are still way down from where we should be at this time of year,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “We are averaging around 400 passenger per day depending on the day of the week.”

Last year, the airport was handling around 1,500 daily passengers.

On the bright side, deputy airport director Brian Ellestad said the number of seats available in the Missoula market are climbing and now stand around 60% of normal. A number of seasonal flights once though gone for the year are set to return this month.

“In July, we’ve added a lot of the seasonal markets back in that would have been added in June but were delayed,” said Ellestad. “United isn’t bringing Chicago back for the summer, but they are bringing back San Francisco.”

While United has canceled its route to Chicago for now, American Airlines has stepped in to fill the void and will begin running its nonstop flight from Missoula to Chicago this month.

American also is boosting the number seats in the local market and will add two daily flights from Missoula to Dallas/Fort Worth later this year.

“For fall and beyond, American is the most aggressive,” Ellestad said. “They see opportunities with the other airlines pulling out. Starting in October, there will be a second daily trip to Dallas that we didn’t have last year.”

Jensen said Delta, Alaska and Frontier airlines are down in available seats, though airlines are starting to load their late summer and fall schedules as air service looks to get back on track.

“Minneapolis, Chicago and San Francisco return in July, and in August, what we’re seeing right now is that airlines are slowly loading their August schedule,” Ellestad said. “It looks like Portland is going to return. It looks like we’ll be slightly higher in seats in August over July.”