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Although negotiations are taking place far from Montana, Missoula International Airport is carefully monitoring the breaking news in its industry: the potential merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines.

As the two giants hammer out an agreement and work to get approval from the Justice Department's antitrust division, Cris Jensen is busy considering the local impact.

United currently serves Missoula, but Continental does not, said Jensen, airport director. If the merger goes through, it could mean that Missoula would benefit by getting some of Continental's routes.

"Because we have a good relationship with United - which gives us service to Chicago, San Francisco and Denver - we could have other opportunities because of the merger," Jensen said. "Continental has a hub in Houston, so maybe there is a potential to talk to them about service to that market, and possibly others.

"This could be a good thing."

Jensen said he doesn't know any more about the merger, even though he's an industry insider.

"It remains to be seen how this all turns out," Jensen said. "All we have heard is they agreed in principle to merge and we don't know much beyond that. But I can't see any downside for the actual merger."

Airlines that currently serve Missoula are United, Alaska, Allegiant, Horizon and Delta, and the merger shouldn't affect those relationships, Jensen said.

"It's still really early on in the process, and it has a long ways to go," Jensen said Monday. "We are eagerly watching to see how things go. Beyond that, we are looking forward to the summer travel season with the start of the new San Francisco service, and Allegiant is ratcheting up their service and the numbers have been really positive.

"We are really excited about that, and in the

first fiscal quarter passenger traffic is up

5 percent."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at


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