United Airlines has upped its Rogue Valley commitment and struck a competitive blow at the same time.
United said Tuesday it will offer twice-daily flights between Medford and Los Angeles International Airport beginning April 9.
The Chicago-based airline lays claim to the most comprehensive route network in the industry. But it hasn't offered direct service between Medford and Los Angeles since route cutbacks following the 9/11 attacks.
United continued whittling down service to a handful of flights to San Francisco and Denver, before reinvigorating its routes with larger planes a year ago. Since then, it has transformed itself to the point it will likely be the local market leader by mid-2018.
"United has a major base in Los Angeles, and they want to feed people through there as well as San Francisco," airport Director Bern Case said. "They've analyzed it and don't think it's going to be detrimental to San Francisco; some of the people going through San Francisco have been going to Los Angeles anyway."
United's 6 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. Canadian regional jet departures replace the peak Alaska/Horizon schedule that was reduced and then disappeared altogether this fall. Ironically, it was Alaska/Horizon jumping in with direct flights to LAX when United pulled back.
United will now compete with American's American Eagle, which began daily service between Los Angeles and the Rogue Valley in June.
"We've had a policy where we don't try to get people to come in where there is already service," Case said. "But it's OK for me to be thrilled when they do it on their own. I'm not trying to rain on American's parade, but competition is good for everybody."
The service was one of 10 new routes — including similar LAX connections with Redmond — that United announced in California, Florida, Montana, New York, North Carolina and Texas. All will begin in April.
United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said Los Angeles has been the top destination for flights out of Medford, even without direct service.
"We review opportunities to grow our network based on customer demand, compatibility with our hub structure and aircraft availability," Guerin said. "Medford fit our criteria for service from our Los Angeles hub. In terms of demand, Los Angeles is Medford’s most popular route. Our new flights complement our existing West Coast service to our hub in San Francisco.”
Travel Southern Oregon Executive Director Brad Niva said the new connection fits well with a "Circle of Discovery" campaign leading travelers through the Oregon Caves, Redwoods National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Lava Beds National Monument and Lassen National Park.
Southern California travelers are now hitting Southern Oregon on par with visitors from the Seattle area, Niva said.
"Southern California is becoming a valid market for us, even though it's a fly market," he said. "You're looking at a group of people with discretionary funds who travel, not just for business, but recreation."
Caveman Travel owner Brian Mein said he's all for adding as many flights as possible, especially if it opens more connections to Mexico and Latin America.
"Like every other airline, they are looking to compete with everybody and get whatever routes they can," Mein said. "That's business, you try to outmaneuver your opponent. In this case, it's sort of like Delta running a route out of here to Seattle, trying to catch more of the market. I would like to see Alaska rebound and do what it should. They really shot themselves in the foot with all the flights they cancelled."
A real benefit, he said, might be for people going to Australia and South Pacific locations.
United presently flies four times daily to San Francisco and twice to Denver. The airline said it plans to launch seasonal service in June from Chicago to Fresno, California, which is a gateway to Yosemite National Park. Other seasonal routes from LAX include Kalispell and Missoula in Montana, which will give passengers ready access to nearby Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
— 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.