Frontier Airlines on Monday announced it will offer direct flights between Denver and Missoula International Airport four days a week beginning June 13.
From Denver, travelers will be able to connect to more than 30 locations, including Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New York.
The announcement was a turnaround from a previous statement during the Missoula Economic Partnership’s annual investor update meeting in November that Frontier would not be bringing service to town in 2014.
The courtship process to bring Frontier to Missoula lasted several years, and Frontier’s senior director of planning and scheduling said the fit appears to be a good one.
Visitors, businesses and residents alike will benefit from the added option, Robert Westgate said.
To get to Missoula for Monday’s announcement, Westgate spent about $1,000, he said.
“It kind of brought home to me the impact of being here,” he said.
Flights from Missoula to Denver will run Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, while flights from Denver to Missoula will be Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Westgate added that Frontier intends to make the service on its full-size airplane year-round, depending on demand this summer.
Missoula Economic Partnership’s Air Service Taskforce played a crucial role in securing the carrier, several said, with Westgate saying that MEP made the process easier and increased Frontier’s confidence in coming to Missoula.
Adding a low-cost carrier to Missoula is good for business and economic development, said James Grunke, president and CEO of MEP.
Savings on air travel can now be spent on things like research and development and expansion, he said.
“That’s why we’re excited to welcome Frontier to Missoula,” he said.
David Bell, who has been involved with the taskforce, said the addition of Frontier helps businesses in several ways.
“The reason is that competition, almost without exception, drives down costs,” said Bell, president and CEO at ALPS Corp.
ALPS has offices in the Midwest and on the East Coast, Bell said, adding that employees often travel by air.
Lower fares mean more money for ALPS’ bottom line. They also mean that when businesses consider where to increase staff, Missoula and Montana become competitive, he said.
Adding Frontier means that Missoula is now competitive with Bozeman – a place Mayor John Engen said he’s tired of hearing about.
“And that doesn’t get any better in my mind,” Engen said.
Because Missoula is now competitive with Bozeman, it will be easier to attract conferences and events to town, said Barbara Neilan, director of Destination Missoula and head of the Tourism Business Improvement District.
Before, Neilan used lower costs for hotels and food to grab the attention of organizers; now, the lower airfares will be a selling point as well, she said.
Tourism brings $300 million to Missoula each year, she said, and Frontier’s services will help reduce the number of people who fly into other airports in the state.
“It gives people a lot of options both in and out of Missoula,” Neilan said. “Just across the board, it’s going to be a great thing for the community.”
Along with Frontier, Delta, United, Alaska and Allegiant offer flights from Missoula. Because the new carrier had been kept under wraps until Monday morning, the airport has not received much feedback from the other carriers, said Cris Jensen, the airport’s director.
Lower fares could help stop leakage of passengers to other airports, including Bozeman and Spokane, Jensen said.
Currently about 30,000 people choose other airports each year, he added.
Including Frontier, 50,000 seats will be available for travelers in July, the airport’s busiest month, Jensen said.
Already, the airport has been experiencing growth, including the addition of Delta flights and Alaska Airlines bringing back its nonstop service to Portland, Ore., he said. Not including Frontier, about 370,000 seats are expected to be available this year.
The growth means the airport board has been discussing several construction projects that could expand parking and upgrade seating and bathroom areas, he said.
“I think Frontier just kind of adds an exclamation mark on the conversation,” Jensen said.
However, several leaders warned that the service is “use it or lose it,” and Grunke said MEP’s next step is to ensure that Frontier sees success.
Westgate said he’s confident demand will be strong for the 138 seats available on the Airbus 319 aircraft even if other carriers lower their rates. He added that he hopes travelers remember the reason other carriers’ prices decrease is because of Frontier adding competition, and that they will choose Frontier.
Flights are available for as low as $65 each way through Wednesday, then from $79 through Sunday. Afterward, fares will be in the low $100 range, Westgate said, and can be booked at flyfrontier.com. Frontier has operated for 20 years, and offers flights to more than 75 destinations in the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, with its primary hub at Denver International Airport.