Exterior Missoula airport passenger terminal

A conceptual rendering of what the exterior of the new Missoula International Airport would look like.

American Airlines will begin daily direct flights to Dallas and seasonal direct daily flights to Chicago from Missoula in June, the Missoula International Airport announced Monday.

Both flights will begin June 7, with customers already able to book tickets, airport director Cris Jensen said. The Chicago flight will run through Aug. 20.

"I think in terms of air services it's a big step for the community," Jensen said.

James Grunke, chief executive officer of the Missoula Economic Partnership, said the new American service was brought together in part by Missoula being able to provide a revenue guarantee for the airline if it added direct routes to Missoula.

A spokesperson for Sen. Jon Tester, who said the senator had pushed for a $600,000 federal grant to help fund the revenue guarantee, said the new direct flights will be a benefit to the economy of the Missoula area and by extension, the state.

County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said while she hopes the revenue guarantee money won’t be needed for the Dallas and Chicago flight additions — adding that flights out of Missoula are almost always close to capacity — having those funds available helped secure the American Airlines service and will be useful in enticing more airlines to provide direct flights to Missoula.

Dallas will be the 13th destination to have nonstop flight service to and from Missoula.

In a statement, Sen. Steve Daines said the new flights will mean more options for Montanans looking to travel, and more tourism business.

“Tourism is one of the Treasure State’s greatest economic drivers and now travelers from Dallas and Chicago will be just one stop away from everything Montana has to offer,” he said.

Jensen hinted at nonstop air service to Texas during a City Club Missoula meeting last week, in which he also updated community leaders on plans for a new terminal for the airport.

Barb Neilan, executive director of Destination Missoula, said during Monday’s news conference at the airport that her agency has seen a distinct spike in interest in Montana from tourists in Dallas and Houston.

“In tourism, it’s important to have as many connections as we can,” she said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.