It’s becoming a harbinger of summer in Missoula.
Frontier Airlines on Wednesday resumed nonstop service between the Missoula and Denver, marking the third straight year of direct connections between the two cities.
Evening arrivals and departures will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays through October at least, using a 150-seat Airbus until summer, then bumping up to a 180-seat plane.
They’re the same aircraft that Frontier will fly to and from Bozeman on the other three days of the week, said Brian Ellestad, deputy director of Missoula International. Last year Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Montana’s busiest, had four days of Frontier service and Missoula had three. Both airports enjoyed record traffic years in 2015.
“Frontier's happy with the market, and we’re happy with them in the market,” said Ellestad. “It’s driving airfares down with the other airlines.”
Frontier flights are scheduled to arrive in Missoula at 7:45 p.m. and leave at 8:25 p.m., the last departures of the day.
Denver-based Frontier returned to Missoula in 2014 after a 19-year hiatus. Its first flight two years ago was on June 14. Last year it was May 14.
The Missoula airport rolled out its additional summer seasonal flight schedule, which resume in June and July.
Allegiant restarts flights to Oakland on June 2 and to Los Angeles on June 9. In both cases bookings are available through Aug. 14.
United restarts flights to Chicago on June 9 (through Sept. 6), and to San Francisco on July 1 (through Aug. 15).
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Delta plans to again fly from Missoula to Atlanta and back beginning July 3 and lasting, for now, until Aug. 21.
Ellestad said United for the first time will bump up its weekend flight capacity to Chicago from a 70-seat airplane to one capable of carrying 128 passengers.
Such adjustments continue a trend toward more flights and larger aircraft, Cris Jensen, the Missoula airport director, said in a released statement.
“Our strong passenger activity demonstrates that current air service offerings are being well-received by our customers and the community is responding to the competitive fares, new destinations and additional flights,” Jensen said.
April numbers aren’t finalized, but Ellestad said passenger enplanements in Missoula were up 7 percent through March compared to last year’s first quarter.
When Frontier first resumed service in 2014, the airline asked for a financial guarantee from Missoula to continue service through the lean winter months. Missoula businesses through the Missoula Economic Partnership offered instead to guarantee all of 2015. Frontier didn’t go for that.
Ellestad said no guarantees were discussed last year. Frontier's plans for Missoula after October are unknown. Frontier discontinued year-round flights from Bozeman in January. That decision reportedly came after a change in the airline's business model from operating as a network carrier with connecting flights to offering point-to-point service with low base fares and “a la carte” fees for most services, including checked and carry-on baggage.
Frontier charges $35 for carry-ons, $30 for a first checked bag, $40 for a second and $75 for any bag after that.
Ellestad emphasized the importance of passengers on any of the five airlines that fly out of Missoula to arrive at least 90 minutes prior to departure to allow ample time for parking, checking baggage, security screening and boarding. Make it two hours if you're on one of four flights that leave between 6 and 7 a.m.