Discount carrier Frontier advances 2019 start from Missoula to March

Frontier Airlines has pushed up its Missoula to Denver flight schedule next year, when it plans to launch service in March ahead of spring break. (Frontier photo)

Frontier Airlines has pushed up its Missoula to Denver flight schedule next year, when it plans to launch service in March ahead of spring break.

The schedule, announced on Tuesday, marks the discount carrier’s earliest seasonal start out of Missoula International Airport since it commenced service in 2014 after a 19-year absence.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the fact they’re coming back earlier,” airport director Cris Jensen said Tuesday. “We think the university students on spring break will be able to take advantage of the earlier service. They have a lot connectivity to the warm weather destinations that we think students will be interested in.”

Frontier returned to Missoula in 2014 and has adjusted its seasonal schedule several times since. The season was shortened in 2017 as the carrier restructured its routes.

But this year, Frontier began service on May 2. The March 22 start date scheduled for 2019 is the carrier’s earliest in Missoula, and it extends the season by more than a month.

In 2016, it provided service through Jan. 3.

“They continue to extend their schedule here, so we’re pretty happy about that,” Jensen said. “I would hope at some point in the future we can convince them to go year round. But even without that, they’re getting pretty close.”

The average cost of an airline ticket out of Missoula International Airport has dropped nearly $40 over the past five years, according to the Bureau of Transportation Services’ analysis of the 2017 season.

The annual report, released each spring, showed an average fare of $418 – the lowest among the state’s seven largest airports.

Jensen said discount carriers like Frontier and Allegiant have played a role in bringing down ticket prices.

“(Frontier) is definitely an ultra-low cost carrier in the market, so they tend to bring the prices down,” Jensen said. “They have a lot of connectivity in Denver, so they’re competing with United and Delta and Alaska and American on a lot of routes, and they offer a low-cost option to a lot of our passengers, which is nice to have.”

The bureau’s analysis of 2018 ticket prices is expected next spring.