Glacier Park International Airport Adds Winter Flights to San Francisco

United Airlines will provide direct service to and from San Francisco on Saturdays from Dec. 17 through March 25

By Beacon STaff
Glacier Park International Airport on Jan. 6, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Glacier Park International Airport is gaining additional flights to a pair of major markets this winter.

Building on the success of its revenue guarantee programs, the Glacier AERO group has secured new direct air service from San Francisco to Glacier Park International Airport for the 2016-17 winter season. It has also expanded holiday air service for the successful direct flight from Chicago, now entering its third season.

United Airlines will provide direct service to and from San Francisco (SFO) on Saturdays from Dec. 17 through March 25.

United will also provide Saturday flights to Chicago (ORD) from Dec. 17 through April 1 and, new this year, on Sundays from Dec. 18 through Jan. 1.

Glacier AERO — a nonprofit named the Airline Enhancement Regional Organization — has spent the last two years raising donations from the community to help increase local airline services.

The funds have supported winter direct flights to Chicago in the form of an minimum revenue guarantee contract with United Airlines. Glacier AERO, funded by businesses and organizations from all economic sectors, and Flathead County Economic Development Authority’s matching grant, has provided $283,000 in funds to support the new and expanded service for the 2016/2017 winter season, according to AERO officials.

Historically, the Chicago winter flight has proven its success with a 67 percent load factor in 2014-15 and an 84 percent load factor in 2015-16. In the first year, Glacier AERO had to reimburse approximately $17,000 to United Airlines for the MRG. In the second year, no funds were required to be paid to United. Glacier AERO representatives are actively fundraising this fall to continue the momentum of support for expanded air service to additional key cities in the future.

“New and expanded air service is vital to our tourism economy, especially during the shoulder seasons,” says Dylan Boyle, executive director for Explore Whitefish and an AERO board member.

“These flights provide us with a larger platform in key target markets to promote our outstanding winter visitor experience. Focusing on target markets where we have direct air service has yielded great success for us as we promote world class skiing and snowboarding at Whitefish Mountain Resort, top-notch lodging, and award-winning restaurants, as well as many other winter activities including the one-of-a-kind experience of visiting Glacier National Park during the winter.”

Boyle also noted the additional air service not only benefits winter tourism, but provides direct access to large markets for business travel, as well as local leisure travel.

The Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau, Whitefish Mountain Resort, and the Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau have promoted air service with marketing campaigns over the last two years and will continue for the third straight season.

GPIA is on pace to break its annual passenger record for the fifth year in a row. More than 270,600 passengers flew in and out of the local airport through July compared to 258,000 a year ago.

Last year a total of 470,238 revenue passengers traveled through Kalispell, according to airport officials. That includes 236,628 passengers who boarded a flight in Kalispell and 233,642 who arrived on a flight in Kalispell.

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