Topic Author
Posts: 170
Joined: Wed May 19, 1999 7:00 am

Flights To Montana

Fri May 25, 2001 11:43 am

I'm wondering if anyone has any information on flights to Montana pre-1995. Airlines, routes, aircraft, and anything else would be appreciated. Thanks.

Posts: 116
Joined: Fri Apr 27, 2001 2:10 pm

RE: Flights To Montana

Fri May 25, 2001 4:38 pm

Let's go back a quarter century and take a virtual tour of the Billings Airport, Montana's biggest back then, as it is today. Here are the aircraft you would have seen:

Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Richard Silagi

Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © John P. Stewart

Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Richard Silagi

Yes, Billings got at least one of these DC10 birds every day for many years!

The three major carriers throughout the 60s and 70s, and into the 80s in Montana were these three, Western, Frontier and Northwest Orient. There were also a few regional carriers. The most important routes linking Montana with the rest of the country were flown by Northwest Orient, because they were the only coast-to-coast airline serving the area.

Western Airlines:
From Billings: Flew to Denver, Salt Lake City and sometimes Seattle.
From Great Falls: Flew to Salt Lake City, Butte and Calgary.
From Butte: Flew to Great Falls and Salt Lake City.
They did not fly to Missoula, Helena or Bozeman, at least not in the "all-jet" era. (Post 1970).

Frontier Airlines:
From Billings: Other major cities in Montana plus Denver and Salt Lake City.
From Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula: Billings, Salt Lake City and Denver
Also during the late 70s and early 80s they had through flights from Missoula to Spokane, which continued to Vancouver BC (they did not serve Seattle at that time).

Northwest Orient:
Flew through all six major Montana cities each day on through-flights from Seattle east. They did this almost from their inception, and their old propeller aircraft, including the DC6 would usually hit all six cities on their way west and east between Minneapolis and Seattle.

With the dawn of the jet age, Northwest Orient did not abandon Montana. In fact, by the late 70s, Northwest jets departed Billings fourteen times a day, travelling east to Minneapolis/St.Paul and Chicago, Bismarck and Fargo ND (two daily non-stops each, and west to the other five Montana cities, with direct service to Spokane and Seattle.

The daily DC10 had this route heading west (Flight 71): Newark --Detroit--Chicago--Billings--Great Falls--Spokane--Seattle/Tacoma. Flight 72 did the same in reverse.

DC10 service was discontinued in 1982, two years after full deregulation, but flight 71/72 continued up until Northwest restructured after purchasing Republic Airlines in the late 80s

In July 1981, there were 25 jets going in and out of the Billings airport daily, and the other five cities had at least half that many.

With all the jets going through to other places, you could fly from Montana to places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Washington DC without even changing planes.

In addition to the far-off places, the three airlines were also providing jet service between all six of the major Montana cities. That was a real convenience in a place like Montana where the distances between towns is great, and flying may be a more convenient option if you have business to conduct across the state or at the Capitol. Unfortunately, that service seems to be a thing of the past.

Today, only four major airlines are providing service to Billings, and they pretty much only fly to their hub airports. United serves Denver, Delta serves Salt Lake City, and Northwest of course serves Minneapolis. Alaska flies to Seattle and sometimes Spokane. The other five cities only get a couple of these carriers each. Even Northwest has abandoned some of them. Good luck finding any intra-state flights on anything much bigger than a Cessna!

The reason for the service cuts: Primarily Montana's location and small population base. Carriers used to serve Montana at a profit, but they don't want a profit anymore, they want a killing, and Montana's small cities can't produce the loads, and is too far away to be worthwhile for any of the "big six".

What the Northwestern US region really needs is its own low-fare carrier, since Southwest is focusing back east and is not going to make a priority out of that region. Alaska could operate like that if they wanted to but alas, they don't.

Maybe with open skies, Westjet could apply to serve cities on both sides of the border?

A low-fare entry is about the only way Montanans are going to bring any real level of air service back to their communities. Good luck! And thanks for embarking me on this trip down memory lane!  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

I enjoy this kind of topic, and have a huge collection of airline system timetables and OAG's from the late 70s to the present, which I collected over the years. I am also purchasing pre-1975 material, which I also had a lot of back then but lost a lot of it during my college days  Sad

Posts: 134
Joined: Wed Feb 16, 2000 1:09 pm

RE: Flights To Montana

Sat May 26, 2001 9:32 am

Excellent post Highflyer16! Very, very detailed and informative. I too enjoy this kind of topic and would like to post the same type of post about the Birmingham (BHM) airport (then and now). Hopefully I can find the time and dig up some old pictures and do this soon. Thanks for taking the time to write this up for all of us to enjoy.
Topic Author
Posts: 170
Joined: Wed May 19, 1999 7:00 am

RE: Flights To Montana

Sat May 26, 2001 11:50 am

Thanks for everything. Your help is greatly appreciate.


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