News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Fog creates travel woes out of Redmond

Maybe you are one of the estimated 7.5 million air passengers traveling for the Christmas holidays. Or maybe you are expecting family traveling to you. Good luck. You will probably need it.

In addition to the anticipated record number of travelers - up by 200,000 from the previous high in 2019 - you may encounter uncommon delays at RDM – Redmond airport - in the form of fog.

A couple from Camp Sherman arose at 3 a.m. last week for a 6 a.m. am flight that would take them to Salt Lake City for a connection to Las Vegas that would get them there at noon, in plenty of time for that evening's opening of the National Finals Rodeo. It was a dream trip they had planned for months.

Ground fog delayed them over seven hours, and they had to add in an extra connection in Los Angeles to make it at all. This was after two schedule changes in the preceding months from their original booking as airlines continue to struggle with crew shortages and delivery delays of new airplanes.

We are in an El Niño weather year. The term El Niño refers to a warming of the ocean surface, or above-average sea surface temperatures, in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The low-level surface winds, which normally blow from east to west along the equator ("easterly winds"), instead weaken or, in some cases, start blowing the other direction (from west to east or "westerly winds").

El Niño brings more warm moisture and with it more opportunity for fog.

Any number of days in Sisters over the last month have featured ground fog in some cases lasting for hours. Redmond has been especially hard hit, with the airport having a number of severe fog, events totally disrupting air travel. And it couldn't come at a worse time.

17.6 million Americans are now enrolled in TSA Pre-Check, up 3.9 million from last year. This once elite program designed to speed you through security is having the opposite effect with so many more travelers qualifying. The pre-check lines at RDM are often just as long as for regular screening, frustrating passengers.

At the same time as demand for air travel increases, squeezing more passengers through RDM's already crowded terminal, due for a major expansion, Alaska Airlines resumed its Portland (PDX) service with a daily nonstop in each direction.

A few counters down, Avelo has grown from one destination (Los Angeles/Burbank) to four, adding in Palm Springs, Santa Rosa, and Las Vegas.

Alaska operates Boeing 737-9 Max jets to and from Seattle. This is the biggest plane in the 737 family employed for long-distance flights, with a 3,250 nautical mile range making it capable of coast-to-coast flights or even reaching Hawaii.

But due to passenger demand, the "Max" ferries travelers the short distance from Redmond to Seattle. Almost without exception, the Seattle gateway offers Sisters Country travelers the lowest fares, especially as compared to connections via San Francisco and Denver.

In May RDM will add nonstop service to Dallas (DFW) by American in a move to meet ever growing demand from Central Oregon. DFW is American's major domestic and international hub, and Sisters passengers will now shorten many destinations by as many as eight hours.

Capacity-strained RDM took a major hit in 2020 from Covid, as did airports everywhere. The rebound has been nothing short of spectacular. Roberts Field surpassed the one million mark this year in enplanements and deplanements.

A $200 million terminal expansion is expected to make its start in 2024, and that could complicate travels even more during construction, although airport managers expect to minimize impacts with careful and phased planning.

Airport parking is now $24 a day, which some passengers describe as greedy. "Give me a break," grouses Dave Fuller of Sisters, a frequent business traveler. The bump from $15 is still less than Portland, Seattle, or Eugene but it's forcing a change in habits for passengers leaving town for more than a few days.

There is no Lyft or Uber in Sisters - yet. And a ride to the airport is at least $50 and typically $60 plus tip each way.

Airfares remain high, up 25 percent in a year according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank. That does not appear to be slowing down travel. Gen Zers are traveling at record numbers and will soon surpass Millennials.

Travelers may expect more frustration in 2024, especially in the morning when nine flights depart in a three-hour window from 5 to 8:05 a.m.


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