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Airport numbers showed improvement in October

Passenger numbers at the Medford airport were better in October than most months this year, but traffic is still down significantly compared to 2020.

Airport traffic was down 49% compared to October 2019, the first time since March there has been less than a 50% drop.

“We are kind of in that slow recovery curve. We are still seeing that increase a little bit with passengers returning,” said Jason Foster, airport air services and economic development manager. Arrivals and departures are averaging about 42 per day, with an additional four on Sundays and Thursdays by Allegiant.

The lowest point came in April, which saw a 92% drop compared to 2019. That was followed by declines of 84% in May, 70% in June, 59% for July and 55% for August. In September carriers canceled some flights during days that wildfire smoke filled the valley, resulting in a 58% reduction.

“There were a couple of days where we had some canceled flights due to smoke. September is always a little light because it’s back to school and the public cuts back on vacations,” said Foster. “It was to be expected.”

Passenger totals for all airlines went from 96,906 in October 2019 to 49,641 this year. Comparing September totals, there were 95,383 passengers in 2019 versus 39,504 in 2020, a 59% decrease.

Nationally TSA screened 907,332 passengers Thursday, Nov. 19, a 63% decrease from the same day in 2019. On Oct. 18, TSA screened over a million passengers for the first time since March 17. The million-passenger figure hasn’t occurred since then.

Medford tracks the TSA checkpoint numbers, and so far in November they are matching up with increases seen during most of the COVID period, with a small increase for the month, said Foster. Whether the resurgence of the pandemic and government calls to cut back travel will impact the airport won’t be known until the month ends, he said.

“Those folks who already have their travel plans booked, most of them will probably fly, although it might be a slight deterrent,” said Foster. “Other parts of the country are still open.”

During March, the first month of major COVID impacts, departures were down 49% compared to 2019. That decline ended 38 consecutive months of growth that saw the airport exceed a million passengers in both 2018 and 2019. A total of 419,450 travelers have boarded or deplaned at the airport this year through Oct. 31. Last year there were 906,158 during the same period.

The airport saw passenger traffic rise in both January and February over 2019, but March saw a 49% decrease. The last time the airport saw an annual decrease was in 2013, when passenger numbers went down by 1.76% compared to the previous year. Since 2013, there had been a 72% increase in passenger traffic.

By airline, American had the smallest percentage decrease in passengers, down 16% in October from 7,294 to 6,054. Alaska had the largest decline, down 59% from 32,461 to 13,190 passengers.

Allegiant recorded a 31% drop from 5,097 to 3,538. Delta showed a 42% decline to 11,286 passengers in 2020 compared to 19,401 in 2019. United had a 52% decline from 32,290 in 2019 to 15,573 this October.

On Tuesday Allegiant announced new nonstop, twice-weekly flights to and from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, beginning Feb. 12. Currently five carriers service eight different destinations.

Both Alaska and United resumed service to Los Angeles in October. United suspended flights there in April, and Alaska hadn’t flown there since 2017. Allegiant has continued to serve Los Angeles.

Most routes are seeing about an even reduction in passenger traffic since the pandemic struck. An exception is Phoenix, said Foster. Earlier this year American dropped a connection to Los Angeles but added a second one to Phoenix, said Foster.

“Phoenix has a high load factor. Everyone else is pretty even,” said Foster. Phoenix serves as a connection hub for the airline. Allegiant runs flights to the Phoenix Mesa Airport during the summer.

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

Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschThe Medford Airport has seen a reduction in flights since the pandemic began.