JAC Enplanements

More tourists and residents stepped aboard commercial airliners at Jackson Hole Airport in July than during any other month in its history, and it wasn’t even close.

The total monthly passenger count came in at more than 77,421, a sharp 22% increase over the 63,657 enplanements tallied during last comparable July, in 2019. The modern era is the busiest in the airport’s history, with monthly and annual records being topped with regularity.

“July was a very strong month at the airport in terms of passenger enplanement,” Airport Director Jim Elwood told his board of directors on Aug. 18. “I think the airport is responding to the same pressures that all of us have felt here locally.”

But gains in use of Jackson Hole Airport even outpaces other metrics of Teton County tourism. So not only are more people coming to the region than ever before, but they’re also more likely to be flying as their mode of transit.

July 2021 was also the busiest month in Grand Teton National Park history, for example, with 827,777 visitors. But interest in seeing the park surpassed comparable 2019 figures by only 6%.

Tourists flowing through the town of Jackson are up in percentages more commensurate with what’s being documented at the airport. Using a cellphone tracking service, Placer.ai, the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board estimated that 52,139 visitors were in town limits on any given day during the month of July, a 28% increase over the average number of people from the last five years.

“July was bigtime hammer month,” Teton County Commissioner Mark Barron told airport board members.

It looked, Barron noted, like traffic had “eased up” during August.

Jedediah’s owner Mike Gierau, whose restaurant business operates out of the airport, agreed with that observation.

“We have had a good summer,” Gierau said. “But because of the delta variant, the numbers are dropping faster than anybody anticipated.”

Airlines targeted Jackson Hole like never before in summer 2021. There were more airlines flying to Wyoming’s busiest airport and from more destinations, for starters. In the past couple years, discount and regional airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, Sun Country and Alaska all added service.

Nuances in the flight data suggest that the airlines have perhaps even overestimated demand. A lower percentage of seats aboard commercial airlines are filled with people. The “load factor,” as that metric is called, was just 70% in July, well short of the 85% of seats that were filled in July 2019. On the year the load factor is 63%.

“We’ll see how the airlines respond to that change for the next couple of months,” Elwood said.

Historically, he added, lower load factors translate to airlines reading the market and pulling back service.

One airline, Allegiant, has already dropped its new service, first reported by Buckrail.com. The ultra low-cost carrier filled just a quarter of the seats on 57 flights departing from Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada, according to airport data.

Although it’s busier than ever before, Jackson Hole Airport has absorbed the additional passenger traffic well, Communications Manager Meg Jenkins said. The added flights and greater number of people, she said, have not added much to wait times in the terminal building because the airlines have spread out their flight times.

“Instead of being busiest from, say, 11 to 2,” Jenkins said, “we’re just kind of busy throughout the day.”

Note: This story has been modified to fix some inaccurate passenger numbers that an airline provided to Jackson Hole Airport. Increases in commercial air traffic in July were not as sharp as originally reported. 

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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