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Medford airport traffic plunged over 90 percent in April

Traffic at the Medford airport dropped 92% in April compared to the same month in 2019 as COVID-19 continued to sicken the travel industry.

Last month, 6,444 passengers arrived or departed through the airport compared to 82,474 in April 2019.

“We haven’t had numbers like that since the airline strike back in 1979,” said Jason Foster, facility air service and economic development manager. That year just 5,200 passengers went through the airport in April.

TSA figures show that nationally air travelers are returning. For May 14, travel numbers showed 234,928 people en route, compared to 190,863 on May 7 and 154,695 on April 30. Those dates in 2019 each showed more than 2.5 million travelers. The low point for the year nationally was 87,534 on April 14.

“The general consensus is that we are seeing an uptick over last month,” said Foster. “We have fared much better than other locations. We are fairly isolated. When people do need to fly, they don’t have any other options except to come here.”

The airport is averaging about 12 flights per day, said Foster. One recent flight left at 85 percent capacity, he said.

Except for Portland, all flight destinations that have had direct service from the airport over the last year still have connections. Alaska, through Horizon, had offered Portland connections. Passengers who need to get to Portland are now flown to Seattle by Horizon, then they take connections to Portland and use the same routes coming back. Direct service to and from Portland is scheduled to resume June 1, Foster said.

Horizon had 1,802 passengers in April compared to 28,158 in April 2019. Other airline comparisons for the month were: United, 1,648 versus 28,545 in 2019; Delta Connection, 2,023 versus 13,282; and American Eagle, 871 versus 6,849.

Allegiant had no flights in or out of Medford during April, but had flights to both Las Vegas and Los Angeles May 14. Direct flights include United serving San Francisco and Denver, American flying to Phoenix, and Delta going to Salt Lake City and Seattle.

Working with a consultant the airport already had under contract, the organization has already begun air service recovery planning.

“We are trying to get out ahead of the consolidation of any services,” said Foster. “The whole industry is going to be changing. It will be drastically different when things return. Our main focus right now is keeping what we have.”

A survey of Jackson County companies to determine how much business air travel is anticipated during the remainder of this year and next year concluded May 15. The airport joined with Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. and the chamber of commerce to conduct the survey.

Airline network planners will be provided with data and marketing plans. Results of the survey will be used in discussions with carriers about retaining routes serving Medford. By May 13, about 100 survey responses had been received.

The terminal remains open 24 hours per day. The first flight usually leaves about 6:10 a.m., Foster said, with the last arrival coming in about 8:25 p.m.

“We’ve seen quite a few people wearing masks,” said Foster. Masks are not required in the terminal, but passengers should check with individual carriers to see what they may require.

Portland’s airport will require masks beginning May 18.

Passenger numbers in March were down 49 percent compared to a year earlier. The decline ended 38 consecutive months of air travel growth in Medford.

Airport information, including arrivals and departures, can be found online at jacksoncounty.org/airport.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTravelers unload from a flight at the Jackson County Medford Airport.