Frontier Airlines is returning to Billings Logan International Airport and will begin flying nonstop to Denver "starting as low as $39 each way," the airline announced Tuesday in Billings.
Frontier is expected to begin service in Billings May 30, said Frontier's Jonathon Nield, a senior manager of route planning for the airline. Flights will be on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and may be booked now from Frontier's website, he said.
Generally, Nield said flights departing Denver for Billings will take off at 9:55 a.m. and arrive at 11:28 a.m. Flights from Billings to Denver will depart at 12:20 p.m. and arrive at 1:53 p.m. There could be "little fluctuations," in those times, he said. Passengers will fly on an Airbus A320 aircraft with seating capacity of between 180 and 186, Nield said.
While a seat on the flight costs $39, Nield said the airline does have additional charges for things like checking bags or reserving specific seats. He said some other airlines automatically add those fees into their total ticket prices. Frontier's system gives passengers a choice and still allows ticket prices to remain affordable, he said.
This is not the first time Frontier has flown out of Billings. The airline flew out of Billings for about 39 years before it was bought by People's Express Airline and shut down in 1986, according to Gazette archives. The airline returned service to Billings in 1994 for about a year. It returned to Billings again in 2004. Frontier dropped service to Billings in 2013.
Nield alluded to financial issues driven by an economic recession and high fuel costs motivating the company to previously cease flights to Billings. He said the company's new low-cost carrier structure "can weather any kind of storm," including a recession or high fuel costs.
Frontier will be monitoring how the numbers pan out for their business with the new service, Nield said, before saying the company believes Billings has good potential for their business.
"We are very confident with the numbers that we see that this is going to be a growth story," he said. "We want to grow beyond just Denver. We don't know when and if that will happen, but we want to. So as we see the momentum and the revenue coming in on our bookings, we will then decide, 'should we look at other places to fly nonstop from Billings to in the U.S.?' "
Additionally, Frontier may adjust the number of flights seasonally depending on how the service is doing during certain parts of the year, Nield said.
The Billings airport offers flights from six airlines including Allegiant, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Cape Air, United and American. In Montana, Frontier flies out of Missoula and Bozeman.
Airport director Kevin Ploehn said he thinks this will address complaints that people could drive to Bozeman and fly Frontier and get a cheaper deal than one in Billings. Ploehn said he had been trying to bring Frontier back to Billings for more than three years.
Tuesday's announcement came during a scheduled press conference in the baggage claim area of the Billings airport. Allison Corbyn, a business recruitment and outreach program manager for the Big Sky Economic Development also spoke briefly.
"This really shows what several years of engaging with our airlines, talking with them, having flight planners visit our community does for air service in Billings," Corbyn said. "I also wanted to talk about how we’re excited about increased visitation with a carrier like Frontier. We know that we’re going to have a jump in tourism to our community because it really provides a fare that makes that reasonable and possible for people."
During his remarks Mayor Bill Cole reminisced about the last time he flew Frontier, which he said was out of Bozeman in 1976.
"And in those days you got that whole meal in that little white tray, and how they packed all of those calories into that little thing I don't know," he said. "It's great to see Frontier back. We're looking forward to a great, long-term relationship. It's going to be a great opportunity."
Nearly a million people arrived and departed from Billings Logan International Airport in 2018, breaking the previous record set in 2012.