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Airport adds service from Minneapolis-based carrier

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | January 27, 2021 9:30 AM

Glacier Park International Airport will add flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul on Sun Country Airlines beginning in May.

It’s another sign of recovery after the airport reached its all-time low passenger count last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This new service from Sun Country Airlines is a testament to the recovery we are experiencing at GPIA,” Airport Director Rob Ratkowski said in a press release.

The Minneapolis-based carrier announced plans to expand to nine new airports in 2021, including Glacier Park International. Sun Country is considered an “ultra-low-budget” airline, with fares under $100 and an all-economy seating layout on its flights.

Service from Kalispell to Minneapolis will be offered twice weekly on Sun Country and run seasonally through October.

"We are excited to extend our network and offer people access to even more low-cost vacation options when they are ready to travel again,” Sun Country CEO Jude Bricker said. “The past year has been a challenge for the travel industry, but with increased access to COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, we're starting to see that turnaround.”

GPIA has seen passenger numbers rising since the spring, with traffic nearing the amount recorded in 2017. The airport’s recovery reportedly has been one of the strongest of any airport in the state.

“Passenger demand is steadily increasing, and airlines are recognizing the benefit of doing business here in Kalispell,” Ratkowski said. “We welcome Sun Country and are excited to have additional service to the Minneapolis/St. Paul market.”

On Jan. 15, in a show of confidence in the airport’s performance, the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority approved moving forward with a $100 million expansion project that had been tabled in last spring when passenger volumes dropped off.

Kim Morisaki with Glacier Airline Enhancement and Retention Outreach (AERO), the fundraising and advocacy group dedicated to expanding air service in the Flathead Valley, said Sun Country reached out to GPIA independently. “We’re thrilled that they’re coming,” she said.

She anticipates GPIA will get more interest from other air carriers as airlines reevaluate their service in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“We’re thinking we might see some other different companies looking at the Flathead Valley going forward,” she said. “COVID has sort of changed things in the airline industry.”

In the meantime, she urged locals to talk to her and the Glacier AERO team about ways to support their mission of bringing in more flight options. She explained Glacier AERO keeps a reserve ready for whenever a potential new carrier starts looking into local service. She said Glacier AERO is always fundraising “so that when the opportunity knocks, we’ll be ready to answer.”

Reporter Bret Serbin may be reached at 758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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