Missoula airport expanding to handle increased flights


MISSOULA, Mont. - A construction worker steps through a temporary plywood door and into the administration office of the Missoula International Airport. It's one of the many temporary blemishes in the airport's decor as crews hurry to finish renovations before the peak traveling months in summer.

The restrooms are doubling in size. A hangar has been demolished to make way for a parking lot. An outdoor deck, projected from jet blast by glass, will allow passengers to catch some sunshine while sipping a cool drink.

Airport officials hope that these projects can be completed by the beginning of July.

It's the start of what promises to be a busy summer at the airport. New seats will be available this season.

Airport Director Cris Jensen says to expect more flights, bigger planes and longer security lines. Jensen says to show up 2 hours before your flight leaves so you can make it through the security lines in time.

A big part of the airport's new flights will be from Frontier Airlines, which will begin service to Denver on June 13. Community leaders tout Frontier's arrival as part of a solution to the high cost of flying out of Missoula.

Patrick Barkey, director of the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, has a more conservative view. He puts more emphasis on the idea that extra competition from Frontier in the Missoula market would most likely keep fares from increasing. He does say a decrease in overall fares is possible.

It's a delicate balance. If flights are full, there's no reason to lower prices. If there are too many empty seats, the airline removes those flights from its schedule. Jensen describes it as "use it or lose it."

The best prices, however, come with just enough empty seats that airlines offer discounts, but generate enough business to keep the flights coming.

Other factors come into play besides price. For a round trip flight from June 26 to June 29 between Missoula and Denver, Alaska Airlines is cheapest. Frontier offers a lower price for the same route, but with fewer flights offered, passengers would be forced to fly out on June 27 and return on June 30.

What if the prices at the closest airport are still too high for your taste? Sometimes nearby airports have lower prices, but parking can cost you up to $70 a week, not to mention the cost of gas.

Jensen suggests that the budget-conscious flier monitor prices regularly.