Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The number of seats on commercial airlines leaving Missoula is closing in on pre-pandemic levels and is expected to surpass 2019 figures later this year.

Missoula Montana Airport director Brian Ellestad said the increase in seats should help drive ticket prices down.

“Due to the increase of seats, our airfare appears to be decreasing,” Ellestad said. “I think it's going to be a lot cheaper to fly because of availability.”

Since 2006, airfare from Missoula has remained below the state average – how much below depends upon the year and other factors.

Ticket prices have generally fallen since around 2012 but are trending back up, with an average fare from Missoula at around $210 – slightly below the statewide average.

“Missoula is typically below that (state average) line,” Ellestad said. “We'll see where we are once new data comes out if prices fall.”

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A spot search suggested seats to Orlando through Denver on Frontier can be found for $104 each way, and round-trip flights to Cancun on United Airlines through Denver are available for around $419. American Airlines has round-trip tickets to Los Angeles for as low $220.

The number of seats and competition between carriers play a role in fares, and Missoula remains above the national average by trending just 5% off its number of available seats when compared to the same month in 2019.

“Once we get into September, we will be on the positive side with a 7% increase in seats over September 2019,” Ellestad said. “Alaska added a fifth round-trip to Seattle and American will add its overnight flight (to Dallas) back in August.”

Frontier has also extended its seasonal service to Denver this year and Allegiant will resume its nonstop service to Orange County in mid-November, Ellestad said.

With the first phase of the airport's terminal expansion project now complete and Phase 2 underway, the airport can accommodate more flights, and its capacity will continue to increase.

Barb Neilan, executive director of Destination Missoula, said the organization will continue to invest in a revenue guarantee to help grow air service in Missoula. It's the only organization that does so.

“With the expansion of the airport, it's going to have capacity to bring in more flights and to start talking again to new airlines to bring them in. We want to have some money to back them up,” Neilan said.

The airport in 2019 saw a record year with more than 900,000 passengers. That dropped off during the pandemic, but airport officials expect this year's passenger count to match 2019 figures.