Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport has beat its record for most travelers in a year after its busiest 10 months ever.

The airport has already seen more passengers in the first 10 months of 2021 than its previous record year. It’s also set month-over-month records for seven consecutive months.

As of October, the airport tallied more than 1.65 million travelers. The airport’s previous record, set in 2019, tallied just more than 1.57 million passengers. That year was the the 10th consecutive year the airport had beat its own record.

In 2020, the airport saw its traffic cut by almost 50 percent due to the pandemic. This year, January and February saw slower starts compared to 2019. With the pandemic still raging and vaccines not widely available, the two months saw passenger totals down 27% and 17%, respectively. But by March, the airport was back on track seeing passenger traffic similar to 2019.

While June, July and August so far have seen the most travelers in 2021 (July and August each saw more than a quarter million visitors), Airport Director Brian Sprenger was surprised by how busy October was.

“It’s one of our shoulder-season months and so when we look at October and see the numbers, it’s surprising,” he said.

October saw about 156,000 passengers, a 50 percent increase from 2019.

The record-setting busy year has put some strain on the airport, he said.

“Lines have been longer, baggage handling has been more of a challenge, lines for rental cars and parking lots are full,” he said. “We’ve seen five years of growth happen in a one-year period.”

And while many people traveled into Bozeman this year, Sprenger said many of the travelers have been locals. Outbound traffic from the airport has been “every bit as strong” as inbound traffic, he said.

That’s measured, in part, by how full the airport parking lots have been. Several projects are finishing to increase parking spaces at the airport, including expanding some overflow parking on the west side of the airport.

“We’re adding about 15 percent more parking through the next couple of weeks,” he said. “We’re looking at adding even more parking next spring because of the numbers.”

The airport is also looking at updating its baggage system in early 2022.

Luckily, Sprenger said, the airport did complete several expansion projects in time for the 2021 traffic boom.

Last November, the airport opened a 70,000-square-foot concourse, which added a new restaurant and bar and more space for vendors and amenities. The expansion cost upward of $26.5 million and added five gates to the airport.

Bozeman’s success wasn’t seen throughout the country. Overall, air travel traffic still hasn’t reached levels seen prior to the pandemic, according to data released on Oct. 25 from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

National traffic in June was up from 2020, but down 15 percent from 2019.

Sprenger said November is usually one of the slowest months for the airport, but he predicts the airport will hit just shy of 2 million travelers by the end of the year.

“Thanksgiving will give us a little bit of a bump (in November,) but our real bump is when ski season comes back in full force in the middle of December,” Sprenger said.