Almost 450,000 commercial airline passengers used Idaho Falls Regional Airport in 2021.
The total surpasses the airport’s previous usage record, set in 2019, by about 100,000 passengers, city officials said this week.
“Even with the continued effects of the pandemic, we are still seeing our passenger counts increasing,” Idaho Falls Regional Airport Director Rick Cloutier said
Fewer passengers — only about 210,000 — utilized the local airport in 2020 due to the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the airline industry. But throughout that year, Cloutier said his staff continued to focus on airport and air service improvements, doubling the number of gates available, from three to six, and expanding the baggage claim and security screening areas.
Idaho Falls also attracted additional commercial routes last year: The airport now serves 12 major destinations, Cloutier said, up from seven in 2019, and a new Alaska Airlines flight to Boise is expected to begin this spring with support from the local business community.
“We’re always working with our airline partners and new airlines to add more service,” Cloutier said. “As those opportunities become available, we’ll definitely be adding more service in the years to come.”
Because of the new flights, and the renovations, Cloutier said Idaho Falls Regional Airport “is really becoming the premier air travel destination in the entire region,” and he expects passenger numbers to keep rising in the future “as we continue to expand our infrastructure capabilities.”
In the coming years, Cloutier said renovations are planned for the airport’s customer check-in desk and the “behind the scenes” areas where baggage is screened and prepared for loading.
Airport staffers also are “working through our parking issues,” Cloutier said.
“Every time we add flights, it requires more parking,” he explained. “(That’s) one of the things we’re looking at expanding over the next few years.”
During the recent winter holidays, Cloutier said the airport opened a free overflow parking lot for travelers, many of whom took advantage of the amenity.
“At a few points during the holiday season we had a couple of hundred cars in the overflow lot,” Cloutier said. “(We’re) looking at how we can make that better. … We want to make it a little easier for the community.”
In the shorter term, Cloutier said Idaho Falls is preparing to accommodate a temporary influx in passengers that is expected to occur between April and June in conjunction with a runway reconstruction project that will suspend operations at the Jackson Hole Airport, which recorded about 500,000 passengers last year, also a record for that airport.
“All of our current airlines … will be expanding service here in Idaho Falls during that closure time, adding additional flights and upsizing (to) larger aircraft to handle more capacity,” Cloutier said. “It’s going to be busier. (And) it will continue to get busier as we continue to grow and add more flights in the future.”
He pointed out that additional flights lead to increased competition in the air service market, which can drive local ticket prices down.
Published reports indicate fares at the Idaho Falls airport fell by about 30% in 2021.
“As we continue to grow, hopefully we can continue to control those costs (and) be marketable throughout the region,” Cloutier said.
All three of the larger airports serving the Greater Yellowstone Region set passenger records in 2021.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Montana attracted a record 1.94 million passengers in 2021, according to published reports.
Yellowstone National Park saw nearly 4.9 million visitors in 2021, breaking the prior record set in 2016. The 2021 visitation mark was a million more people than visited in 2020.
Grand Teton National Park broke its annual attendance mark in September and as of the end of November had seen 3,801,445 visitors, more than 310,000 more visitors than entered the park in 2018, which held the previous record. December 2021 visitation numbers have not yet been released.
By KATIE FRITZ email@example.com