Flying In to Jackson Hole (Trip Report)

Awhile ago, the discussion came up about how much more I would be willing to pay to fly out of Long Beach than out of LAX. For this trip to Jackson Hole, the answer was roughly $60 per person. For $441.40 per person, we were able to get excellently-timed flights out of Long Beach via Salt Lake on Delta.

We could have paid about $380 to fly United out of LAX via Denver, but it was worth the extra money to fly out of my home airport and to avoid having to fly all the way to Denver and then back to Jackson Hole.

The trip itself was fantastic, though it was spent mostly on regional jets. Flying into Jackson Hole is a real trip (here’s the video of our landing at left) – it’s the only commercial airport in the US within a national park (so I’m told), and it makes for a beautiful arrival. Jackson Hole itself is an incredible place. I can’t believe I’ve never been before, and I can’t wait to return again.


June 24, 2009
Delta #4716 Lv Long Beach (LGB) 645a Arr Salt Lake City (SLC) 940a
LGB: Gate 23, Runway 30, Dept 9m Late
SLC: Door E22, Runway 16R, Arr 9m Early
Aircraft: N368CA, Bombardier CRJ-700, Wavy Gravy Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 8A
Flight Time: 1h20m

There is nothing like a pre-7a departure to really get things going in the morning. Seriously, I like early flights, and since our 645a flight was out of Long Beach, we didn’t even bother leaving home until 550a. After parking, it took us about 15 minutes before we were through security and waiting to board.

Once boarded, we were ready to go on-time but the captain, apparently unfamiliar with Long Beach, came on to tell us that the airport didn’t open for flights until 7a, so we would sit at the gate for 10 minutes. Nice scheduling work, Delta. When we did push back, the US Airways and Alaska early flights had beat us to the punch so we didn’t get airborne until a few minutes after 7.

It was my favorite kind of day Great Salt Lake From the Airto fly. We punched through the low marine layer and burst into brilliant sunshine quickly. Then the captain pointed the nose toward Salt Lake and we were off. The air was very still and I drifted in and out of sleep as we sped over the desert floor.

The flight attendants handed out peanuts, biscoff cookies, and drinks and they made a couple of passes for refills. Soon, we were descending into a sunny Salt Lake. We had a great view of the lake (at left) and then we looped around and landed from the north at ghetto Terminal E.


June 24, 2009
Delta #4510 Lv Salt Lake City (SLC) 1040a Arr Jackson Hole (JAC) 1141a
SLC: Gate E71/Door E21, Runway 16R, Dept 2m Late
JAC: Gate A3, Runway 19, Arr 9m Early
Aircraft: N611SK, Bombardier CRJ-700, Wavy Gravy Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 13D
Flight Time: 35m

We had walked all the way back to the main gate area where we found it was time to board our connection after just a few minutes. They took our boarding passes and told us to walk to door 21, all Salt Lake Terminal Ethe way back where we had landed earlier. Terminal E has a cramped central gate area. Once they take your boarding pass, you walk down very long, spartan hallways (at left) with a couple dozen doors leading to different aircraft. It’s really not fun.

We were originally on a 757 at 1120a but when I looked the other day, I noticed they now had a regional jet going at 1040a. I called Delta and since there was a schedule change, they moved us for free and gave us the only two seats left together – exit row.

When we boarded, I remembered why I didn’t like the exit row. The legroom was great but the cushion was hard, it was much louder than up front, and most importantly, the window was offset. On a flight like this, you want the window for the beautiful scenery.

We lifted off to the south and came around over the lake before heading northeast on this very short flight. There was no service onboard since it was only half an hour, and it seemed like just as we finished climbing, we were heading back down.

The view coming in was beautiful. We came in from the south and then circled around through the canyons surrounded by snow-topped mountains before landing from the north. A short taxi in and we were on our way for a fun weekend.

Jackson Hole is absolutely amazing, and I had no idea how spectacular the Grand Tetons were until I saw them jutting into the clear Grand Tetons In the Backgroundblue sky. We ended up taking a couple of day trips with Taylor at Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures. I can’t say enough about how much better our trip was when armed with his vast knowledge of the area. One hike off the beaten path took us to this place, at right. It was unreal.

Most of the time we were there, the weather was great, but Friday evening a storm came roaring down the mountain. There were sustained 50+ kt winds, hail, and a lot of trees coming down. I can’t describe how amazing it was to see the power of nature in this place. I’m looking forward to going back one day.


June 28, 2009
Delta #1265 Lv Jackson Hole (JAC) 115p Arr Salt Lake City (SLC) 225p
JAC: Gate 3, Runway 19, Dept 4m Early
SLC: Gate D10, Runway 34L, Arr 18m Early
Aircraft: N617DL, Boeing 757-200, Wavy Gravy Colors, ~85% Full
Seat: 24F
Flight Time: 37m

We arrived at the airport an hour ahead of our flight, boarding passes in hand. We had about a 10 minute wait at security but soon enough we were through to the fairly cramped holding area. It probably was made a lot worse thanks to two 757s loading up, including ours.

This was our only mainline jet of the entire trip, and it pulled up right on time, if not looking a little in need of paint. We were more than happy to board, though many people were watching the soccer finals until they absolutely had to go.

There’s Boarding Our 757 at Jackson Holenothing like boarding a big jet from stairs, and the 757 is one big jet when looking up from the ramp. As we boarded I noticed a wifi sticker at the door, my very first wifi aircraft. This plane had the nice blue leather seats but they were dirty. There weren’t any TVs, but I didn’t care for such a short flight.

We took off like a rocket and zig-zagged our way out of the valley. As soon as that 10,000 foot chime went off, I decided to play around with the wifi. That didn’t get very far. By the time I had connected my BlackBerry to the network, we were at cruise. I went to the sign up page and it took me a couple of tries to register a new account. Just as that happened, I got to the last page where you have to pay $7.95 to use a mobile device, and the flight attendant announced we had begun our initial descent. I wasn’t about to waste my money just so I could send a quick Tweet from 30,000 feet, but at least I was able to see that the system does, in fact, work.

Soon enough the Great Salt Lake appeared on the right and we landed after coming around to the north. We got off and remembered how nice Salt Lake City airport can be when flying in on big jets before we had to head down to the dungeon that is SkyWest Terminal E. It was a very crowded day down there with constant PA announcements for a ton of oversold flights looking for volunteers. Ours was not one of them, and after a few minutes, it was time to board.


June 28, 2009
Delta #4723 Lv Salt Lake City (SLC) 3p Arr Long Beach (LGB) 352p
SLC: Gate E76/Door 24, Runway 34L, Dept 4m Late
LGB: Gate 23, Runway 30, Arr 2m Early
Aircraft: N445SW, Bombardier CRJ-200, Wavy Gravy Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 10D
Flight Time: 1h30m

It was a full flight, and we pushed back only a couple minutes late. The captain was talkative and said that it would be a little bumpy at first but it would smooth out quickly. He was right. We took off to the north, had a couple bounces, and then we were on our way. The single flight attendant did one service and then asked if anyone needed refills on her way back up the aisle.

Soon, we passed just southeast of Vegas and had a great view of the Strip. We came in over the High Desert, went south, came west over Orange County and then over Huntington Beach on our way in.

We landed on time and so ended a long stretch of traveling – 24 flights in the last three months. My goal is not to touch an airplane during the month of July.

16 Responses to Flying In to Jackson Hole (Trip Report)

  1. Simon says:

    I have family who used to live in JAC so have done the SLC-JAC route a lot (for someone who lives the other side of the Atlantic). Including landing in JAC in a snowstorm in the winter in a Brasilia where to this day I have no idea how the pilot could see the field let alone get the plane down.

    I don’t know whether the following are true or myths, but I have been told:
    because of the thermals coming off the mountains and the altitude, JAC is rated as one of the most difficult airports to use by the mainline airlines, and it’s normally reserved for more experienced pilots;
    those thermals can create an effect whereby a plane nearly lands but then cant quite touch down;
    as a result, there are more runway overruns than the average airport; once upon a time, someone over ran and instead of waiting for a tow out, just reved up the jets and got himself out of the gravel trap, but in so doing blew stones all over the runway thus shutting the airport for far longer than would have been the case if he’d stayed put;
    because it’s in a National Park (and I’ve been told it’s the only one so located as well) they can’t put fences in to stop wildlife wandering across the field and so every now and then it’s shut while they clear some elk;
    the runway’s only just long enough for 757’s.

    I agree that the waiting area at Terminal E isn’t great but I like walking down that long corridor and being able to see the aircraft (relatively) up close. It’s no further than having to walk along B, C or D, though annoying when you have to walk back and forth even if your planes are next to each other.

  2. kaszeta says:

    I’ve done the SLC-JAC flight several times myself (never in a 757, mostly Brasilias), and it’s one of my favorite approaches, even if one time I got barfed on by an airsick passenger next to me.

  3. David SFeastbay says:

    With all that natural beauty, it’s a shame jets are used. It looks rustic and peaceful so you think props plane would fit in more then jets.

    Not to long ago I read something about a spat between the airport and the park over money. I can’t remember it now, but I think one pays money to the other and hasn’t been, and talk about building a new airport outside the park. Then there was the problem over who would provide the airport police, the park or the city. That almost shut the airport down until it was resolved. A small pretty place with problems just because of the land it sits on.

  4. JK says:

    CF, Loved your report.

    I often wonder if airline employees ever truly get to experience, or really have much appreciation of what their customers often have to put up with when travelling today. Simple things, little things–bad seats, dirty windows, long hikes in airpots, dingy conditions, etc.–that make for a less than pleasant travel “experience.” To be fair, I wonder if the average traveller appreciates what the airlines do to make the “experience” pleasant either. Getting us a plane (one with decent legroom), considerate crew (sometimes), reasonable fare, etc..

    To be able to see and enjoy some wonderful places like Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, and the getting there and back on a plane by a well-run airline makes life worth living.

  5. Eric says:

    Great report/vids….JAC rocks! And yes, I agree that the E gates at SLC have all the charm of a communist-era eastern European prison…sans the whimsy.
    I will keep that violation of F.A.R. 91.21-1 between us…shhhhhhh *rolls eyes* LOL

  6. CF says:

    Simon – Not sure if there are any special requirements for flying into Jackson Hole, but you could certainly feel the winds coming in and that was on a fantastic weather day. I can’t imagine doing it in a Brasilia in a snowstorm.

    kaszeta – Um, I’m gonna have to say that getting barfed on might knock it down a few pegs on the list of great approaches.

    DavidSF – There are props in there – Frontier (actually Lynx) flies Q400s in, but they aren’t much quieter. The loudest ones, of course, are all those fancy private jets.

    JK – Amen. It was a great travel experience, even though there were some dirty seats, dingy corridors, etc. I was happy.

  7. CF says:

    Eric – Uh, yeah, uh, I didn’t take that video. It was, um, my seatmate. Yeah, that’s the ticket. (See the lengths I go through to satisfy my readers!)

  8. oldiesfan6479 says:

    Re the 0645 push at LGB:

    Unless you were being sarcastic, don’t blame DL scheduling. At the risk of incurring the wrath of ALPO, it was the pilot who wasn’t up to speed on the procedure.

    As at SNA, with your 06XX scheduled, you want to push on time and get out there ASAP to the hold short and (hopefully) be first in line when the tower says “OK it’s 0700, the airport bureaucrats and NIMBYs can’t touch you now…Brettair six-twelve, cleared for takeoff runway three-zero.

    Yeah, you sit there burning fuel, but hey–unless Al Gore or the Messiah is on board (Al–maybe, the Bamster–not a chance), don’t sweat it!

  9. CF says:

    oldiesfan6479 – I will blame scheduling in this case. It’s not like Orange County where you have a bunch of airplane waiting to push at exactly the same time. There is a US Airways and Delta flight at 645a and an Alaska flight at 655a. JetBlue has a flight at 7a and another at 715a and that’s the entire pre-8a rush. When Delta loads up and is ready to push at 645a, there will always be waiting involved. It takes 5 minutes to push back and taxi to the end of the runway, so the 15 minute window does no good.

  10. Nick says:

    Too much wavy gravy!

  11. Matt says:

    Here’s a video of the approach into JAC from the pointy end. I shot this about a year ago (I was in the jumpseat).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=df66_n7YILM&fmt=18

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  13. Simon says:

    JAC also had (?has) a huge sign at one of the runway reminding pilots of the handbrake turn they have to do once in the air, to avoid overflying the Park… Always used to make me laugh – surely they didn’t need reminding at that late stage!

  14. CF says:

    Great video, Matt.

  15. tivoboy says:

    Nice video!

    but, does this mean that you were using an electronic device with AN ON OFF SWITCH during an active landing?

    not to be a nit, but shame on you.

  16. Matt says:

    @tivoboy Yes I was using an electronic device, with the captain’s permission.

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