On October 1, Delta Airlines ceased its jet service to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, reducing the number of larger planes that fly into the town's municipal airport by more than half. Nonstop service to Denver, Chicago, and Los Angeles is still available on either United or American Airlines, but their frequency, discount-fare availability, and connection variety will be noticeably limited.
While it might mean more fresh tracks for the locals, a wave of anxiety has washed over the majority of businesses dependant on tourism. The Hole's remote location, a distant six hours by car from the nearest major international airport in Salt Lake City, forces it to rely on the convenience of air travel to draw tourists.
Delta's three daily flights from Salt Lake accounted for some 30,000 seats each year, according to several sources. While the airline will try to compensate for those lost seats by increasing the number of commuter flights to Salt Lake on its smaller carrier Sky West, these smaller prop planes only have 35 seats and are not equipped to carry as much cargo.
“The total number of seats does not fluctuate that greatly,” says Bill Malone from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, noting that Sky West's nine daily flights do make up for the lost Delta seats in terms of raw numbers. “What does fluctuate is the ability to have seats on the same plane for people who want to travel together. That's mostly going to affect the bigger hotels and larger properties that rely on group business.”
According to Anna Olson, communications manager at Jackson Hole Ski Corporation, the resort has already seen an overall decrease in reservations, especially in business from Southern California and Southeast Florida–areas that depended on the Salt Lake connection. “It was very frustrating,” she continues. “We were notified very late in our marketing and sales cycle. We were literally informed by a press release only six weeks prior to October 1.”
Olson also noted the cancellation of the Texas Ski Council, a large group who planned to meet in Jackson this winter but didn't want to come if they couldn't fly together: “It will definitely create many challenges for us this winter. It will effect overall figures.”
Although the Texas Ski Council will probably not be missed, local businesses that depended on Delta to ship in supplies will be the most negatively affected. One such business is the Back Door Deli, a town lunch spot known for its fresh gourmet ingredients like specialty meats and cheeses. The owners were so hard hit by the increase in cost to have supplies shipped in by the smaller carriers, that they bought a truck to handle shipping themselves.
The couple now makes the trek to Salt Lake once a week and hopes to pay off their new rig by offering their shipping service to other businesses in need of cost-effective alternatives.
The resort and Chamber of Commerce are confident this will most likely be a short-term dilemma, as Jackson Hole officials are currently in negotiations to bring back jet service as early as the summer.
“The sold-out flights on United and American show we have enough demand for that jet service. We should be able to get those 30,000 seats back by next winter–if not with Delta than with some other airline,” Olson says.
According to an employee from Hole In The Wall Snowboard Shop in Teton Village, “It's still too early to tell if the loss of Delta is going to effect our business. But people are definitely worried about it.”
Pro-snowboarder Rob Duncan thinks it's a blessing in disguise: &”F–k the tourists. It just means more powder for us.”