Older passengers keep airport's numbers climbing

Seniors make up the 'major market for air travel here' in valley
Rogue Valley-Medford International Airports sustained passenger traffic rebound can be attributed to the elderly. They are seeing their portfolios going up, their real estate is doing better, and their stock is doing better, said former airline marketing exec Mark Dennett.Bob Pennell

There's a simple explanation for the sustained rebound in passenger traffic at the Medford airport — the finances of older folks are back in order.

"The major market for air travel here is primarily seniors, and they are seeing their portfolios going up, their real estate is doing better, and their stock is doing better," said Mark Dennett, a former airline marketing executive and present-day consultant.

"Seniors 65-plus are feeling more comfortable about taking trips. People are coming here to see grandkids and going elsewhere to see grandkids."

For the 10th-straight month, commercial airline passenger counts ticked up in Medford, with 49,671 passengers passing through the airport gates in April. It was the second-best April on record, surpassed only by the 51,798 figure recorded in 2007 — before the economy took a nosedive.

"The investor economy has come back," Dennett said. "When travel was declining, it wasn't impacted much by business travel. Business travel is consistent, but it's not a market driver."

When the economy went south, younger families couldn't afford distant vacations, and seniors simply balked.

"Seniors were just holding back because their house wasn't worth as much and their stock was down," Dennett said. "What you were seeing during March and April is the end of the snowbird period (when retirees migrate back from Arizona and Southern California). It's a time of year when people are moving in and out of Southern Oregon — both seniors and baby boomers."

Vacation travel has picked up, as well. "If you look at the (hotel) figures, you see that market has definitely been on an upswing," he said. "Cruise ships are really rebounding, too."

April's totals were 3.6 percent ahead of last year, driven by a 7.4 percent gain by Horizon Air and a 2 percent bump by Allegiant Air. United Express was off 1.5 percent and Delta Connection was essentially unchanged. Through four months, local passenger totals are slighly more than 3 percent ahead of 2012.

The 18 daily departures mirrors last May's level.

"We're easing into the summer schedule, and we're expecting to have a good summer," Airport Director Bern Case said.

Case said he's holding out hope Allegiant Air will eventually offer service to Hawaii from the Rogue Valley. Allegiant offered direct flights to Hawaii from several West Coast cities, including Eugene, Spokane, Wash., and Stockton, Calif.

"When I talked with them in March, they were disappointed with their first-round markets," Case said.

Taking a half-loaf approach, Case would welcome seasonal options from the Rogue Valley to the islands. "I would like nothing better than to tell the community that we have Hawaii service four months a year," he said.

The months wouldn't matter to him. "People can adjust their vacations," Case said. "The nice thing about Hawaii is that the weather doesn't fluctuate more than 5 degrees summer to winter."

Case also indicated there may be renewed service to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. "I'm optimistic about that," he said.

"More so for next year."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.


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