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Air traffic from PDX takes off

More travelers, more flights put airport on pace to set record


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland International Airport is a busy place these days as full flights and a lot of passengers push it toward a travel record.After a six-year recovery Portland International Airport is poised to set new all-time passenger traffic records this year.

The airport, among the region’s major economic engines, expects to see 14.7 million travelers pass through its facilities by year’s end, breaking the prior record of 14.6 million passengers set in 2007. An improving economy is boosting both business and leisure travel as airlines add more flights and new nonstop destinations, said Steve Johnson, PDX spokesman.

“It’s hard to pinpoint all the factors, it’s really a combination of more companies involved in business travel, more leisure travelers, as well as more air service options,” Johnson said.

Since 2007, PDX has seen three new carriers launch operations here — SeaPort, Spirit and Virgin America airlines. JetBlue had arrived in 2005.

In addition to new carriers, established airlines have been adding nonstop flights with more planned by fall. For example, Alaska Airlines has begun nonstop service between Portland and Bellingham, Wash., and American Airlines added twice daily nonstop flights to Chicago.

On Aug. 26, Alaska will add a nonstop to Atlanta and on Sept. 16, daily nonstops to Dallas/Fort Worth. From June through Sept. 30, Alaska is flying nonstop to Fairbanks.

In addition, JetBlue plans a second nonstop to Boston starting July 12; United will offer daily service to Cleveland from June through Aug. 26 and Delta will begin four daily flights to Los Angeles starting Sept. 3.

PDX expects to see 4.4 million travelers pass through its gates between June and August, a 3 percent increase over summer’s all-time record. For the year, airport passenger traffic so far is up an overall 5 percent even as the number of flights at PDX has remained stable at about 15,000 landings and takeoffs a month.

“Every day during this summer peak period is going be like a busy holiday day,” Johnson said. “We are advising people to arrive at the airport two hours early to make sure they are parked, get their baggage checked and through security. Airplanes are essentially flying full, so rebooking a flight can be extremely challenging.”

Those who haven’t flown recently may be surprised at how full the planes are, he said.

Alaska, the second largest carrier at PDX after Southwest Airlines, has been a big factor in boosting business. So far this year, Alaska has seen a 10.9 percent increase in passenger traffic at PDX over 2012. Horizon, its sister airline, is up 9.6 percent.

JetBlue has boosted 2013 passenger traffic by 15.8 percent. Discount Spirit Airlines has seen a 22 percent increase in PDX passengers.

Virgin America began operating at PDX in June and so far has served 90,000 passengers.

“All this adds up to more service for more passengers,” Johnson said.

Pre-checked security services

To streamline services for frequent travelers, PDX offers two federally administered programs:

• Global Entry: Administered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allows international travelers to register in advance for a program that expedites clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. To learn more, visit globalentry.gov.

• TSA Pre: Frequent domestic travelers on participating airlines may register with the Transportation Security Administration to receive expedited screening benefits through a dedicated security check lane. The service is available at 40 U.S. airports, offered by six airlines including Alaska, Delta, United and American. For more information, visit tsa.gov/tsa-precheck

Economic impact

With an annual operating budget of $105.4 million, PDX supports an estimated 10,000 jobs in the Portland-Vancouver area.

After investing in several capital projects to boost parking services, the airport now offers more than 14,000 short- and long-term parking slots (1,530 new slots since 2007). In addition, the airport has rehabilitated both runways, added a new de-icing and storm water collection system and installed in-line baggage screening equipment, Johnson said.

And for those who appreciate the regional retail flavor at PDX, travelers can look forward to the opening of a Burgerville fast-food outlet in the airport food court this winter.