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Medford airport has another record month

Commercial air travel topped 60,000 passengers in May, extending the Medford airport's string of record months to nine.

All four airlines serving the airport registered big gains, led by a 26.2 percent advance by United Express, the second-largest carrier.

The 61,539 travelers who passed through the gates last month signified a 13.2 percent year-over-year gain and surpassed the May 2013 standard of 57,926, and marked the highest non-summer figure to date.

"From June 2014 through May, we broke the 700,000 mark," marveled airport Director Bern Case. "I got the numbers while we were at our national meetings, so it was very nice to say we've had 700,000 (passengers) the past year. The numbers for last month are fantastic for everybody."

The exact 12-month total was 701,088, far exceeding calendar 2014's record total of 664,423. Through the first five months of 2015, passenger activity is 15.4 percent ahead of last year, with 274,662 travelers.

That figure might have been even higher were it not for 15 cancellations, primarily United Express flights between Medford and San Francisco, forcing passengers to spend the night, detour through other airports or rent a car.

Chuck Brook was on two different flights in May that were grounded because of mechanical difficulties, one when he was headed to Hawaii and one coming back.

"Because it's mechanical, maybe you can't complain about that," said the local travel agent. "But last October I was at the counter where there were two people staffing the counter and 60 people trying to get rebooked. When they gave me two seats that weren't together on the next flight, I just went home and rebooked to fly the next day."

Right now, there are 18 daily departures from the Rogue Valley, including 10 by Alaska Airlines.

The problem facing passengers when an airline has mechanical difficulties, or weather delays leading to missed connections, is that spare planes aren't available to pick up the stranded passengers.

"The fleets have been downsized," Brook said. "But they still have to go through scheduled maintenance. The FAA will make sure of that."

Case said airlines used to try to book passengers on another airline if there were cancellations or delays.

"If Delta's flight to Salt Lake City had a problem, they would put someone on United to Denver, and they would still make it to the East Coast," Case said. "There is less of that now, and with Allegiant, there is none. They will come in a day late, but they won't put you on another flight."

U.S. Bureau of Transportation statistics covering a 10-year period starting in 2006 show the Medford airport is on course for its best on-time arrival rate in a decade at just under 80 percent. In 2006, it was just 64.2 percent. There have been an average of 38 cancelled flights per year during the period, with 65 last year. Through April, there were 15.

"A lot of those cancellations are from the conditions at airports on the other end," Case said. "But if the cancellation is for mechanical reasons, I always vote with the pilot."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.

Medford airport passengers wait for their luggage. Mail Tribune file photo.