Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) As airlines finalize their new flight schedules, Missoula looks poised to gain more seats, more flights to main hubs, and a new route into California, officials said.

Airport Director Brian Ellestad said four of the airport's five major carriers including United, American, Alaska and Allegiant and Delta have finalized their summer flight schedule.

“As it stands right now, we will have about 30% more seats year over year and are trending about 12% more than 2019,” Ellestad said, noting that 2019 was the airport's busiest year on record.

Based upon the new schedule, Alaska will provide four daily round trips to Seattle. On weekends, it will also provide nonstop service from Missoula to Portland, San Diego and San Francisco.

Allegiant's schedule shows nonstop service from Missoula to Mesa, Las Vegas, Oakland and Los Angeles. Ellestad said the carrier also has added a new route into Orange County, California.

“United will serve Denver with increased frequency and, as in past years, will add Chicago and San Francisco for the summer,” Ellestad said, adding that the Chicago route will now be served by a larger mainline aircraft.

“American Airlines has added the most seats, basically doubled our service,” he said. “We will go from a single frequency to Dallas to twice daily, and Los Angeles will also return this summer.”

Service to Los Angeles has been extended into early October.

American will also restore service from Missoula to Chicago. The carrier last provided the route in 2019. That means both United and American will fly to Chicago, creating competition that could drive down fares for Missoula travelers.

Air Service Expansion

The airport landed service on American back in 2018 thanks to a Small Community Air Service Grant. The initial grant funded a single daily flight into Dallas on a small 76-seat aircraft.

But with American showing confidence in the Missoula market, the carrier will now offer nearly 500 daily seats. While demand has helped, the air service grant played a role in bringing the carrier to Missoula in the first place.

A flight arrives at the new terminal in Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
A Delta flight arrives at the new terminal in Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

“This increase in seats is a great justification of this grant program,” Ellestad said. “We utilized a similar grant back in 2008 that got United to provide San Francisco seasonal service, and that service also has flown every year since.”

The airport plans to use a revenue guarantee in the coming year or two as it courts new service. New York has been mentioned as one possible destination the airport has high on its radar.

In January, the Airport Authority also approved a memorandum of understanding with the Missoula Economic Partnership and signed a contract with Ailevon Pacific to conduct air service development.

While that could enhance the airport's chances of expanding service, it's also meeting with airlines. Ellestad recently returned from an air-service meeting in Alabama where he met with representatives from American, United, Avelo, Sun County and Spirit.

Other airport officials will visit Las Vegas for another meeting in April.

“I was able to meet a lot of new airline route planners and get face-time with them,” Ellestad said. “There are lots of positives as you can see in our upcoming summer schedule.”

The Missoula airport in February became the second busiest in the state behind Bozeman. Airport officials believe 2023 will surpass the passenger record set in 2019, especially given this year's 12% increase in available seats over 2019.