Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) If daily flights to Portland and affordable nonstop travel into California sounds like deja vu, don't worry, you're not stuck on Ground Hog Day. It has happened before and starting next summer, it will happen again.

Missoula Montana Airport this week said Alaska Airlines will bring daily service from Missoula to Portland back in March. The airline will also introduce mainline aircraft to Seattle starting in April on its midday flight.

The changes will increase the number of seats available in the Missoula market, said Airport Director Brian Ellestad.

“Alaska is going to bring in mainline services for one of its three Seattle flights. It nearly doubles our seats on that departure. And Portland is coming back this spring,” he said Friday.

During the pandemic, a number of carriers cut service and Missoula lost a number of routes. Now, as travel out of Missoula grows to record numbers, the flights are coming back and carriers are doing so on larger airplanes.

Alaska's switch to mainline aircraft on the midday Seattle flight increases the number of seats from 76 to 124 – a jump of roughly 63%, the airport said. Restoration of the Portland flight also bumps the number of seats in the local market and provides another destination.

Ellestad said Allegiant also plans to recommence its seasonal service to Oakland and Orange County, California, in May. The additions, along with the introduction of Sun Country Airlines, represent an estimated 5% overall increase in seats, Ellestad said.

Delta Airline's morning departure to Salt Lake City will also move to a mainline aircraft.

“Right now, we're probably in that 5% to 7% increase in seats this coming summer over last summer,” he said. “The summer of 2023 was a record. I think we'll be trending, for next summer at least, well above this year.”

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was a national record setter and, in Missoula, it was equally busy. However, Ellestad said summer travel in Missoula has outpaced that over Thanksgiving, as has travel over Christmas.

“Thanksgiving, while it's the busiest travel day of the industry nationally, for us summers are busier than Thanksgiving,” Ellestad said. “Christmas is always busier than Thanksgiving for us, too. We always go into overflow parking. We'll be adding about 350 more spaces this Christmas than we had last year.”