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Benjamin Spillman

AIRLINES: Southwest crews get local base

6 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Flight attendant Amber Johnson has lived her entire life in Las Vegas. But her workday commutes have taken her to Oakland, Calif., and even as far as Baltimore -- and that was just to start a shift.

Now Johnson, and hundreds of her Southwest Airlines colleagues who also live in Las Vegas, no longer have to fly hundreds or thousands of miles just to punch a time clock.

The nation's largest domestic carrier recently opened a crew base at McCarran International Airport, Southwest's busiest airport in terms of daily departures.

"It just saves soooo much time," says Johnson, 34. "When I'm done with my trip I can get in my car and drive home -- instead of waiting for a plane that may be three hours after I am off of work."

More than 400 flight attendants and pilots now live in Las Vegas. Before the crew base opened for use in October, they would have to fly to one of seven crew bases around the country to start a shift.

The commutes could add hours, even days, to a three- or four-day trip. It was time employees could have been spending on themselves or family.

Time away from home varies by employee. But Johnson said that since the Las Vegas base opened, a trip that used to be three and a half or four days can be shaved down to two and a half or three days.

"That adds up," she says.

Besides saving time for Southwest employees already living in Las Vegas, the airline expects it could have as many as 3,000 workers in Southern Nevada within three years. That would make Las Vegas home to more Southwest employees than anyplace in the country, including Phoenix and Chicago, which have more workers partly because the airline has maintenance hangars in those cities.

Within a year, Southwest projects it will have as many as 1,200 flight attendants and 800 pilots in Las Vegas.

The new jobs come at a good time for Las Vegas, which is in an employment lull.

The downturn in housing construction, the closing of several resorts on the Strip and slow economic growth in general contributed to Southern Nevada's slowest 12-month period for new employment since September 2002.

In the 12 months ended in September, the local economy added 13,300 jobs. That is significantly less than the 40,200 jobs added in the period ending in September 2006. It pales even further compared with the 12 months ending in February 2006 when Las Vegas added a record 60,000 jobs.

Southwest started service in Las Vegas in 1982 with five daily departures to Houston and Phoenix. Today the airline offers 232 daily departures to 53 cities and occupies 21 gates at McCarran.

In September more than 1.3 million people flew Southwest to and from Las Vegas. US Airways, the next largest carrier at McCarran, flew fewer than 704,000.