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Missoula International Airport

Departing passengers wait for their flight at Missoula International Airport while arriving passengers file through the room. The airport is looking to learn more about its passengers with a study planned this summer.

TOM BAUER, Missoulian

MISSOULA -- It’s a bona fide trend now.

Missoula International Airport says it set an all-time record for passenger enplanements in 2015, topping 350,000 for the first time just three years after surpassing the 300,000 threshold.

In all, 350,361 people boarded planes at the airport last year, a daily average of 960 passengers on Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier and United airlines.

That’s a whopping 5 percent increase over the old mark of 334,417 set in 2014.

Frontier returned to the Missoula market in 2014 and recently finished its second year of seasonal flights to and from Denver. The airline said this week it’ll be back for a third season starting May 4 with increased frequency and larger aircraft.

Delta initiated nonstop daily service to Seattle on Dec. 19 that, although leading to early morning ticketing tangles over the holidays, has created “new connections to West Coast and international markets,” according to an airport release.

“Our strong passenger activity demonstrates that our customers appreciate the current air service we offer,” Jeff Roth, chairman of the airport board, said in the release. “The community is also responding positively to the competitive fares, new destinations and additional flights.”

In general, the planes flying to Missoula are getting bigger and the seasonal services are operating for longer periods of time, deputy airport director Brian Ellestad said.

He pointed out Frontier has moved its start date in Missoula from mid-June in 2014 to mid-May last year and now to early May. Its schedule started out with four flights a week but dropped to three in 2015. Now, its summer schedule for 2016 is back to four days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The new Delta flight to Seattle will be in effect for a full year of 2016, promising an opportunity for another record.

The 2015 figures are nearly twice the number of enplanements registered in 1995, when 176,951 boarded planes in Missoula. The airport topped 200,000 for the first time in 1998, 250,000 in 2003 and 300,000 in 2012.

Deplanements in 2015 -- passengers getting off planes in Missoula -- totaled 348,120. Deplanements over the past 20 years have typically been 1,000 to 2,000 fewer than enplanements, according to numbers provided by the airport. 

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