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Chaotic holiday traveling not as present in western Montana

Missoula Montana Airport
Posted at 3:12 PM, Jan 05, 2022

MISSOULA — The Missoula Montana Airport is seeing a season that's quite busy.

“Traffic is back to almost 2019 levels for us,” Airport Director Brian Ellestad told MTN News.

Operations at the airport are revamping after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Ellestad, on Dec. 26 there were 300 more cars in the airport parking lot than there were on that day in 2019.

Missoula Montana Airport sees uptick in travelers

But during the uptick, flying has become very difficult in recent weeks.

“I flew out for Christmas and I was delayed 5½," Ellestad said, of his personal experience traveling over the holidays.

Flying over the holidays was a frustrating event for many Americans with thousands of flights canceled across the US.

But Chicago resident Matt Saley said flying to Montana for the holidays to visit family went off almost without a hitch.

“Yeah, not having to worry about a connection was huge," he said.

His direct flight made the travel easier without connection issues, but flights were still delayed.

“The one on the way like probably 45, 50-minute delay, and then the other one was like a 30-minute delay," Saley explained.

In addition to positive COVID-19 cases and crew shortages, winter storms caused travel to be unsafe in the Midwest, in the south, and across the Pacific last week.

Saley’s flight from Kalispell back home on Dec. 26 to Chicago revealed a chaotic and busy terminal.

“You could tell the people that were in a rush pretty easily,” Saley said.

Ellestad noted that Montana airports weren't terribly impacted by the cancellations over the holidays.

"I would say all the airports in Montana had their share of cancellations over the Christmas holiday, but we probably fared better than the rest of the country."

According to tracking service, over 5,000 domestic flights were canceled over New Year’s weekend.

“Being flexible right now is kind of the name of the game," Ellestad said.