Fuel prices impact Missoula fares; airport wooing new service
MISSOULA – Fuel prices and pilot shortages continue to challenge the airline industry with cancellations and higher fares, but so far Missoula Montana Airport has been spared at least one of those problems. .
Although ticket prices are on the rise, the airport has maintained its current level of service, according to airport manager Brian Ellestad.
“While there is a lot of national news about airline cancellations, to date we have mostly been spared and our operations have been smooth,” he said. “As we look to the fall, we will be very close to 2019 (passenger) numbers.”
While some airports have lost service, Missoula has seen a slight expansion with Frontier Airlines beginning service to Denver in mid-June and American Airlines extending service to Los Angeles through early October.
Ellestad said Allegiant Airlines is also restoring service to Santa Ana Airport in Orange County, California in November. Other routes may be in the future from Missoula once the airline industry stabilizes.
“I met Alaska, American, Delta, Sun Country, Spirit and Southwest Airlines,” he said. “We have received positive feedback from our existing airlines and potential interest from airlines that we do not currently serve. Based on all feedback, I would expect additional service for summer 2023.”
Airfares increased in Missoula, where the average fare in the fourth quarter of 2021 was $450, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. By comparison, Bozeman was $361, Billings $417, Kalispell $437 and Helena $504.
Figures for the first quarter of 2022 are not yet available, although some passengers have expressed frustration with current prices. But deals can still be reached, Ellestad said.
“Prices are higher than they should be. But we have cars in our parking lot today from Gallatin County. It’s all about booking ahead and getting those tickets. The value is there,” he said.
Ellestad added that fuel prices and the shortage of pilots should be resolved by next year.
“Everyone wants to add service, they just have a shortage of pilots. They are fighting with the rest of the country for airtime. I think next summer the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction,” said he declared.