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American Eagle boosts airport to new record

When American Airlines regional affiliate American Eagle began flying to Medford last month, the competitive juices started flowing.

Four of the five largest domestic carriers — Southwest Airlines is the exception — now serve the Rogue Valley market. Alaska is the fifth largest carrier in the U.S. and the Medford market leader. The remaining legacy airlines — American, Delta and United — all have a piece of the action, and at least one is looking for more.

Travelers crowded through TSA checkpoints at a record pace in June, with 86,828 passengers obliterating the August 2016 standard of 82,049 and the June 2016 mark of 80,273.

"Competition is building, and people respond to that," airport Director Bern Case said. "Right out of the chute, American Eagle had 7,443 passengers without even having a full month."

The American affiliate, flying routes to Los Angeles and Phoenix, overtook Delta Connection in its first month and was little more than 1,000 behind Allegiant, which serves the same markets.

"For the first month," Case said, "they were pretty productive."

American Airlines did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.

June's 8.2 percent gain at the airport pushed 2017 local travel 4.2 percent ahead of last year's record pace. The 398,453 passengers for the first six months of the year was more than any whole year prior to 1997.

Although the 22 daily departures are up just one from a year ago, a shift to larger planes has boosted seating 25 percent to 3,662 seats each day from 2,171 a year ago.

Those figures may well jump in October when Delta launches service to Seattle. The added location is Delta's first since the Atlanta-based carrier began flights to its Salt Lake City hub in March 2005.

"We'll have competition to Seattle, competition to Los Angeles, competition in Phoenix and six other locations," Case said. "The competition is building."

With Alaska Air Group's Horizon Air dropping one of its Seattle flights, Delta Connection's 5:40 a.m. departure for Seattle and 7:10 evening return flight, arriving at 8:20, will fill a gap.

Medford is Delta’s ninth Pacific Northwest destination from Seattle. The 76-seat E-75s, flown by regional affiliate SkyWest Airlines, are equipped with First Class and onboard Wi-Fi.

"Horizon left a little bit of a hole, like an invitation, and Delta jumped in," Case said.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Customers check in with their designated airline before tarveling, at the Medofrd Airport Tuesday morning.[Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]