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Airline options boost airport to another record

It’s been a busy few days for Carousel Travel owner Micki Summerhays.

The Phoenix travel agent has booked a group heading for South Africa to go wine tasting, a Christmas journey to Ireland, and passage to London for a funeral.

For a range of reasons as varied as the folks crowding through the Medford airport security gates, the beat goes on.

Medford airport saw its 19th straight record month in September, and 47th in the past 49, as 89,679 commercial air passengers passed through the gates. It was a 10.1 percent jump over the 2017 figure of 81,423.

“It never ceases to amaze me, but people are traveling as much as ever,” said Summerhays, who has been booking flights and cruises for 35 years.

In real, or constant, dollar terms, flights are generally as affordable as ever, she said.

“With all the cities you can reach from Medford, you can pretty well get anywhere in the world at good prices,” Summerhays said, “if you plan ahead and are flexible.”

A week ahead, she managed to book the London flight for $700, round trip. But generally, travelers are better off buying tickets earlier.

“It’s not like Los Angeles or San Francisco, where you might get a short notice deal,” Summerhays said. “We have to plan ahead — there are only so many seats leaving the Medford airport. Discount seats go first, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. I still do things the old-fashioned way, booking through the airlines systems, and you can see changes in the inventory going in or out.”

There are as many available seats for this time of year as ever, with 26 daily departures, including United’s two 128-passenger Airbus flights to San Francisco and one 150-passenger route to Denver. (Allegiant has twice-weekly 150-passenger Airbus flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas.). But waiting can cost you in multiple ways, said Brian Mein of Caveman Travel in Grants Pass.

“This time of year we lose a few flights, so waiting to book flights is not really a good idea,” Mein said. “Three or four years ago you could wait until a month or two before the flight, but now I suggest buying four months out. If you wait, you might end up settling for the last seat on the last row in a plane.”

United continued to solidify its market lead, handling 33,844 passengers in September, a year-over-year gain of more than 20 percent. Alaska Air Group’s Alaska and Horizon flights saw a 12.4 percent decline to 29,615 passengers. Delta nearly doubled its passenger count at 13,767.

“To put it in perspective,” Mein said, “we’re extremely fortunate to have four major airlines flying out of here. There are cities three or four times our size that are lucky to have one.”

If you’re traveling on Alaska or Horizon flights, it will soon cost you more at the check-in counter or kiosk. Alaska said it will hike its checked-bag fee for tickets purchased on or after Dec. 5. The first checked bag fee will rise to $30 from $25 and a second bag jumps to $40 from $25.

Alaska provides service to Portland and Seattle from the Medford airport.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Passanger unload from a United flight that landed at the Jackson County Medford Airport. Mail Tribune File Photo