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Benjamin Spillman

McCarran passenger traffic continues to plummet

26 February 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas would have to fly in every resident of St. Paul, Minn. -- not Cranfills Gap, Texas -- to replace the airline traffic it lost in January.

Traffic at McCarran International Airport fell to slightly more than 3 million passengers, a decline of 15.7 percent compared to the January 2008 total of nearly 3.6 million.

The decrease of about 561,000 arrivals and departures is roughly equivalent to every resident of St. Paul, population 273,535, making a trip to Las Vegas and back.

"Ouch. Brutal," said Brian Gordon of the business advisory firm Applied Analysis in Las Vegas. "We haven't seen this type of year-over-year decline since the early '80s."

Gordon didn't count three months in the fall of 2001 when Las Vegas and the rest of the nation was reeling from the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

During those dark days passenger traffic was down 28 percent in September 2001, 16 percent in October and 18 percent in November, Gordon said.

And the downturn in March 1981 he cited came at a time when Las Vegas generated fewer than 1 million airline arrivals and departures in a month, not the 3 million or so it generates today.

"These certainly are unprecedented times," Gordon said.

Four out of the top five airlines serving McCarran posted decreases.

US Airways led the way with a 35.5 percent plunge to 412,639 arrivals and departures.

United was the second-worst with a decline of 15.2 percent followed by Southwest's 10.2 percent decrease and Delta's 9.3 percent dip.

Only American managed to post an increase. It generated 170,491 arrivals and departures, an increase of 1.9 percent.

Scheduled traffic at Terminal Two, which is where direct international flights arrive and depart, was down 32.5 percent to 129,557 passengers for the month.

Outside the top five airlines, Las Vegas-based Allegiant was a bright spot.

The airline posted an increase of 7.3 percent to 133,860 arrivals and departures.

In addition to being one of the few positives for the local economy, Allegiant also participated in a promotion in late 2008 that brought residents of Cranfills Gap, population 350, to Las Vegas for a promotion aimed at slowing the visitation decline.

The promotion by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority would have to have been repeated about 80 times in January with the entire town participating to make up for the January decline.