MISSOULA — It came as a surprise back in July when Alaska Airlines announced its plans to begin new daily service from Missoula to three destinations in California, never mind the pandemic.
Combined with the carrier’s three other nonstop routes from Missoula, the new flights, which begin in March, present new opportunities for travelers to reach global destinations in a single stop.
Now, Missoula International Airport and two tourism agencies in Montana will begin marketing the new service, even if it came as a surprise and wasn’t budgeted for this fiscal year.
“Back when we did the budget for this fiscal year, it was doom and gloom,” said deputy airport director Brian Ellestad. “We sliced and actually took out marketing dollars because we didn’t expect to get new service in the middle of a pandemic.”
In an effort to land new service, the airport typically waves landing fees for the first year and provides $50,000 in marketing for each new route.
Shortly after the Missoula airport adopted its FY21 budget, Alaska Airlines called saying it planned to launch new service to San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose as part of its regional plans for expansion.
The airport plans to provide $100,000 in marketing, half taken from this year’s budget and half from next year. It could also get help from several Montana tourism agencies.
“It makes sense to partner with Destination Missoula and Glacier Country,” said Ellestad. “Both of them will put money into this. They don’t know that dollar amount yet. They’re waiting until December to finalize their budgets.”
Last year, Alaska Airlines announced plans to extend service across the Pacific Northwest by adding eight new flights, which included nonstop service from Missoula to Los Angeles.
This year, it also announced a partnership with American Airlines and the Oneworld Alliance. That will make booking across the two carriers easier and open up new connections, enabling passengers to “start a trip on one airline and end it on another.”
Given the carrier's growth and demand for service in Missoula, the airport expects to recover its marketing investment, and then some.
“We believe it pays for itself, plus it lowers airfare, which is stimulation as well,” Ellestad said. “We’ll work with Destination Missoula and pay them to manage this marketing campaign. It makes sense to market with them.”
Ellestad said Glacier Country is already advertising the new routes in California and along the Pacific Northwest corridor. They’re also expected to add to the effort in the coming months.