Daily Inter Lake | February 27, 2017 at 9:29 pm

United Airlines is expanding its service to Glacier Park International Airport with the addition of round-trip daily service to San Francisco starting July 1, the airline announced Monday.

The additional flight will run through Sept. 5 on a “prime time” schedule, departing San Francisco at 9:40 a.m. and arriving at Glacier Park International at 12:51 p.m., then departing Glacier at 1:30 p.m. and arriving in San Francisco at 2:53 p.m. A regional jet offering about 70 seats will accommodate the new flight.

Additionally, two of the four weekly flights to Denver during the summer will see an upgrade from United Express to United Airlines, increasing flight capacity by 17 percent to approximately 128 passengers. United also plans a similar equipment upgrade to its Chicago service for the summer, increasing that capacity by 80 percent.

“This is great news for citizens, businesses and visitors,” Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner said in the press release. “Summer daily service to San Francisco and upgraded equipment to Denver and Chicago on United will be a boost to our visitation and business economy.

“The addition of this service, without guaranteed revenue incentives, indicates the confidence and potential with which United Airlines views this market,” Unterreiner added.

Glacier Park International Airport Director Rob Ratkowski said the Flathead Valley’s strong visitor economy is the driving force behind United’s decision to expand service.

“United has been increasing capacity in our market since last summer,” Ratkowski said. “They have seen double-digit passenger growth for the last five months, including almost 40 percent growth in September 2016 compared to September 2015 ... We appreciate that United is investing in our market. They are increasing competition and the potential benefits for our community are significant.”

The additional flight capacity also benefits travelers, he said.

“Flights are usually booked solid for weeks in the summer, so this makes it easier for locals to travel for business or pleasure,” Ratkowski said.

Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of weekly winter-direct service to San Francisco and the addition of a second weekly, winter-direct flight to Chicago in late 2016.

The Glacier Airline Enhancement Regional Organization (AERO) helped secure new direct air service from San Francisco to Glacier Park International for the winter season. United Airlines is providing direct service to and from San Francisco on Saturdays through March 25. United also is providing Saturday flights to Chicago through April 1 and offered a Sunday flight through the holiday season in December.

The airport has seen steady growth for five years running, accommodating a record number of passengers in 2016, with nearly a half-million travelers using the airport.

A total of 492,522 passengers passed through the airport last year, surpassing the previous record year of 2015 by almost 5 percent.