The Medford airport saw a double-digit increase in commercial air travel activity for the fifth straight month in February.
Spurred by new American Eagle and Delta Connection routes, the 2-year-old February record fell by the wayside as 60,120 travelers passed through the gates last month, a 15.8 percent gain over last year’s 51,926 figure and well above the 2016 monthly record of 52,784.
The passenger count is running 14.6 percent ahead of 2017’s record pace after two months and has seen records fall 40 of the past 42 months.
“It’s been very pleasant seeing this trend,” Airport Director Jerry Brienza said. “At some point it’s going to plateau, but we’re going to ride the wave as long as we can. I think we’ll prosper for quite some time.”
Delta, boosted by its Seattle route, and American, which has reported strong performance on its routes to Los Angeles and Phoenix, are locked in a battle for the No. 3 spot behind Alaska’s Horizon Air and United.
Alaska remains the market leader, despite a 16.2 percent drop to 22,518 passengers. United and United Connection, which combined for 16,631 passengers, is gearing up for twice-daily service to Los Angeles beginning April 9. On June 7, United will add a third departure to Denver.
Delta has shifted its flight contract from St. George, Utah-based SkyWest to Minneapolis-headquarted Compass Airlines. The importance of that, Brienza said, is that Compass flies 76-passenger Embraer 175s.
“Basically, it’s upgraded equipment,” he said.
Matching the passenger growth is seat availability. In March 2017, there were 79,149 available seats. That figure bumped up 16 percent to 91,840 seats this month.
Medford isn’t alone in its growth. With 27,000 daily flights and 2 million travelers winging over America, plenty can go wrong, said Gary Kennedy, former general counsel and chief compliance officer at American Airlines and its parent, AMR Corp.
Whether it be passengers unwillingly bumped from planes, stranded overnight, having unsavory TSA encounters or seeing pets crammed into overhead bins, people are more aware of difficulties when traveling.
“When you have 200 or 300 people crammed into a small narrow tube, things are going to happen,” Kennedy said. “It’s really unfortunate when something happens, but the frequency isn’t that great.”
Kennedy is the author of “Twelve Years of Turbulence, the Inside Story of American Airlines’ Battle for Survival,” released last month.
He points out U.S. Department of Transportation complaints have decreased in each of the past two years.
“I think that’s extraordinary,” Kennedy said in an interview.
One reason for fewer complaints, he said, is because people who are flying five or six times a year know the drill.
“But a lot of people fly once a year though, “ he said. “When things change, they get confused.”
Kennedy suggests full planes departing from regional airports can lead to expanded service.
“Airlines think in terms of depth of schedule,” Kennedy said. “First you will see more frequency and then as you see more passengers, they bring in larger aircraft.”
“Airlines are always looking to expand and looking for new cities,” he said. “Aircraft scheduling is computer-driven — you want the maximum efficiency out of a plane’s flying hours in any one given day. All airlines are scrambling to get more gates, and if you can turn a gate with 10 aircraft per day, you are doing really well.”
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.