Last week, Allegiant Air announced it would be adding direct flights from Kalispell to Phoenix, which means this spring Glacier Park International Airport will offer year-round and seasonal nonstop service to a dozen different locations. It was good timing. This time of year a lot of us begin planning a shoulder-season vacation, an escape after the snow melts but before the valley floor has warmed.
The Phoenix flight was unveiled just weeks after American Airlines announced it would bring service to the area and along with it daily summer flights to Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago beginning June 6.
In the short term, the economic impact of the added flights will be better measured after the peak tourism season and, in the longer term, by whether the improved accessibility attracts more businesses to Northwest Montana. But it’s easy to measure the vastly improved travel options for those of us who have lived here for more than decade.
They keep getting better. And so, in turn, should the prices, especially with multiple airlines offering nonstop options to markets like Chicago and Los Angeles, which is rare for a region with a population our size.
Of course, some credit for these added flights can be attributed to where we live. There’s the skiing in the winter and Glacier National Park in summer, places tourists from larger cities want to experience and from which we benefit. But a lot of the credit can also be attributed to Glacier AERO, or Airline Enhancement and Retention Outreach, which offers prospective airlines a minimum revenue guarantee for a route or, as is the case with American Airlines, marketing support.
Largely because of those efforts, the number of airlines that service GPIA has more than doubled over the last decade. And in that time direct flights have been added to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Oakland, Portland, Dallas/Fort Worth and, now, Phoenix. In 2018, the airport again saw record passenger numbers and is now planning a major expansion.
The increased competition, combined with lower fuel prices, appears to have resulted in a tangible decrease in ticket prices. I searched for several flights last week to check on ticket prices to a variety of locations. By no means was this a scientific exercise. Instead, I was window shopping and pleasantly surprised.
As expected, discount airline Allegiant had the lowest prices with tickets (not including fees) to Phoenix in May still available for $69 each way. One-way tickets to Vegas for the same month were available for $68. In June, when Allegiant begins offerings seasonal flights to Los Angeles and Oakland, one-way tickets were available for $88 and $61 respectively, although the return tickets often cost more.
Yet many of the traditional airlines’ prices were also relatively low, with a round-trip spring flight offered by Alaska Airlines to Seattle costing $216 and a round-trip to Portland costing $298.
For routes heading further afield, the prices increased, but perhaps not as much as you would expect. When American begins service June 6, a round-trip ticket to Dallas is available for $401, to Los Angeles for $307 and to Chicago for $429.
Even the longest route offered at GPIA, a seasonal Delta Airlines flight that travels nonstop across the country to Atlanta, was less than expected, costing $580 for the round-trip.
Yes, that’s real money and airfare isn’t cheap. But the ticket prices coupled with the increasing number of destinations served reflect travel options of a market much larger than the Flathead. And for the locals living in this relatively isolated area, we’re lucky to have them.