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United Air Lines exits Medford on Jan. 7

United Air Lines will no longer directly serve Medford beginning Jan. 7. However, the struggling aviation giant won't totally abandon the Rogue Valley.

United announced Monday that it will end direct service in Medford and four other cities as part of a series of measures designed to save &

36;100 million annually. United Express operations will pick up the routes using smaller planes. The changes will reduce United's payroll by 1,250 jobs nationally and 32 locally.

Although Medford will pick up nonstop Denver service via United Express as part of the changes, a local travel agent says available seats to some destinations, like San Francisco, will be cut by more than half.

Glenn Tilton, United's chairman, president and chief executive officer called this the airline's toughest challenge ever in a faxed announcement that also outlined maintenance and reservation reductions.

We need to make sure that we correctly match supply with demand, Tilton said. These painful cuts will lower some of our costs, but they will not provide the labor-cost savings we need for our recovery plan to succeed. We regret the necessity of making these decisions because of the impact it will have on our employees, their families and their communities.

But unless travelers are really attached to those Boeing 737s that lumber over Mount Ashland and the Rogue Valley Manor three times daily, the news, in some respects, is actually good.

United Express/Sky West will fly four 50-passenger Canadian-made Bombardier jets and two turboprops to San Francisco International daily. Not only that, but it will send jets to Denver twice a day, giving the Rogue Valley its first connection there since Continental ceased service in April 1988.

The apparent losers in the shuffle are United's 30 union employees, who will either move to another location, apply to work for SkyWest, seek other employment or retire.

We won't get into that for another week, said United's Medford general manager Phil Herron, as local employees sort through options and begin putting in for transfers.

Herron, one of two non-union employees, will transfer to another United location. The ground crew, represented by District 141-M of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers will see significant changes. The annual base pay for the union's six full-time workers was &


There are provisions in our contracts that include bumping rights, where our members are allowed to use seniority if they are furloughed, said union spokesman Joe Tiberi in Washington, D.C., It may take a little while to fully understand the depth of the cuts they're making.

United said it will offer eligible employees the option of a special leave to retirement. Eligible employees also will receive severance pay, relocation assistance, and will continue to receive medical and travel benefits for a period of time.

The airline is closing operations in Eugene, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; White Plains, N.Y.; and Syracuse, N.Y. United Express carriers ' SkyWest, Air Wisconsin and Atlantic Coast Airlines ' will absorb UAL's former routes in those cities. SkyWest is based in St. George, Utah. A total of 150 United employees will be furloughed as part of the action, including 40 in Eugene.

UAL has been on the brink of bankruptcy for several months and last week reported an &

36;889 million loss in the third quarter.

If they didn't do something to stop the bleeding, they weren't going to exist, so I think this is a good move, said airport manager Bern Case. There will be a little bit of an impact, but we have ways of adjusting for that in formulas.

The landing fee may go up slightly, because we will have less landing weight. The amount of money we need is a constant, because we have to keep the airport safe.

Rumors escalated over the weekend, concerning impending action by the nation's No. 2 airline. UAL Corp. previously announced plans to reapply for &

36;1.8 billion in federal loan guarantees after having agreed in principle with its unions to slash &

36;5.8 billion in labor costs over five years.

When the news finally arrived, Case said instead of lemons it might be lemon chiffon pie.

I believe this is the best service we've ever had, right now, said Case, noting there will be flights to Seattle, Portland, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix starting Jan. 7.

However, one local travel agent didn't see the transition favoring passengers who have flown on the 138-seat 737s.

I think United has seen the impact and effectiveness of the Horizon and America West (Express) 50-passenger jets, said Marilyn McDonald of Travelhost Travel Agency. You're going to see less than half of the available seating capacity to San Francisco. Even though the two 50-passenger jets to Denver will take a little of the pressure off, it's not going to be a good thing. There will be less availability of seats and no ability to upgrade to first class.

I think it's kind of devastating, because United has been here so long. Their administrative costs are so high and they're not making the necessary cuts at the higher levels; they're making cuts in the area where they are already weak.

Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport figures showed that United accounted for 33 percent, or 15,682 out of 47,077, of the airport's passenger load in August. Combined with United Express, it made up more than 53 percent.

United Express' daily trips to San Francisco are scheduled for 6:45 a.m., 10:15 a.m., 1:35 p.m., 3:35 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. Denver flights are listed for departure at 6:05 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

The airline's Web site didn't reflect the changes on Monday afternoon.

United in Medford

Seely V. Hall and Vern Gorst form Pacific Air Transport in Medford in 1925. The little airline merged with three others to form United Air Lines in 1931. Hall retired as vice president of United Air Lines in 1959.

On Oct. 28, 1978, United Air Lines begins nonstop service to Los Angeles. On Jan. 8, 1979, it announces it will cancel its service because of scarcity of fuel and few passengers.

In 1985, a 40-day pilots' strike caused the Medford-Jackson County Airport to lose &

36;20,000 in landing fees. United Air Lines annually paid about &

36;146,000 to Jackson County for landing privileges that year.

United Air Lines begins nonstop air service from Medford to Denver on June 6, 1986, selling tickets for &

36;119 each way for a round trip.

United Air Lines announces it will restore nonstop service to Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 1999. The service was discontinued in 2001.

United Express, operated by SkyWest Airlines, begins service between Medford and Seattle on Feb. 16, 2000.

In October 2001, United Air Lines' Chief Executive Officer James Goodwin warns employees that the company is in dire straits.

America West Express begins nonstop service to Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 1, 2002.

A United Air Lines jet sits at Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport on Monday as a passenger for a smaller commuter airline walks by. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli