American to service Kalispell with new flights

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A traveler enters Glacier Park International Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 17. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline company, will offer three new daily flights next summer servicing Glacier Park International Airport.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company announced the direct flights to Kalispell on Thursday. The new routes begin June 6 and include flights to and from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare. All flights will run through late September and will be available for sale beginning Monday, Dec. 17.

American will use Embraer 175 jets that seat 76 passengers. It is the same aircraft Alaskan Airlines uses to service Kalispell.

The new American flights were secured through the work of Glacier Airline Enhancement and Retention Outreach (AERO). The outreach group partners with community members and businesses to raise money to back a minimum revenue guarantee for airlines willing to take a risk on offering new flights to and from Glacier Park International.

Those revenue guarantees, however, weren’t needed to bring in the American flights, said Glacier Park International Airport Director Rob Ratkowski.

“That’s a huge deal,” Ratkowski said. For American to initiate the new flights without a guarantee, “shows they have confidence in the market.”

Glacier AERO had identified Dallas/Fort Worth as a key location for air service, said Dylan Boyle, chair of Glacier AERO.

“We are very pleased to see these flights come to fruition,” Boyle stated in a press release. “In addition, both Chicago and Los Angeles are important target markets for shoulder season tourism promotion by our local, regional, and state destination marketing organizations and direct air service is an impactful selling point to potential visitors. This announcement by American Airlines is a big deal for the Flathead Valley.”

Currently four major airlines — Alaska, Delta, Allegiant and United — serve the Flathead Valley. Cities with year-round service include Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle. Additional cities with seasonal service include Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago and Portland.

All totaled, Glacier Park International services about 600,000 incoming and outgoing passengers a year. The new American flights will added up to an additional 456 passengers every day in the summer.

Ratkowski expects that the airport will be able to handle the increased traffic through scheduling changes so flights aren’t overlapping.

“No question it will be tight, but I’m confident the building will be fully functional,” he said.

A recent expansion of the parking lot to 1,000 spaces should also be adequate, Ratkowski added.

He said that rental car services will likely need to ramp up their fleets to accommodate the new summer visitors.

Earlier this year the airport rolled out a three-year expansion plan aimed at accommodating the visitation growth and meeting local flight demands. The project will potentially add 40,000 square feet to the airport terminal by the end of 2022.

Ratkowski said the addition of the American Airlines flights drives home the need to move forward with that expansion.

“Certainly this validates it,” he said. “We need to continue with this project and do it as quickly as possible.”

Current growth estimates indicate that 15 years from now, Glacier Park International could see passenger volumes that rival Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, the busiest airport in the state.

Both Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester touted the American flights as good news for Northwest Montana’s growing economy.

“Glacier Park International Airport serves one of the fastest growing micropolitan areas in the country, and I’m thrilled that American Airlines will be entering the Kalispell market in 2019,” Daines said.

“Bringing in more direct flights will create jobs, boost tourism, and bolster the local economy,” Tester said. “People want to come to Montana, and now getting here will be even easier.

For 2018, Glacier Park International is expected to exceed last year’s record number of 270,000 outgoing passengers and is on course to break 300,000. That would be a 14 percent increase in passenger volume over 2017.

For more information, visit www.iflyglacier.com.

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