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Chris Jones

McCarran Records its Busiest May Ever

28 June 2004

Passenger traffic at McCarran International Airport increased at more than three times the national average during this year's first five months, providing further evidence Las Vegas' tourism industry is in the midst of what could become its busiest year ever.

The Clark County Aviation Department on Friday released its May passenger report for Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. It showed the airport processed more than 3.57 million arriving and departing passengers last month, up 17.7 percent compared with May 2003.

The monthly total was McCarran's busiest May ever and its second-busiest month in history, trailing only this year's March total of 3.63 million passengers.

Through May, the nation's seventh-busiest airport handled more than 16.8 million passengers, up 15.4 percent from a year ago and is on pace to surpass the airport's record 12-month total of nearly 36.9 million passengers reported in 2000.

Renewed consumer confidence, an abundance of low-cost tickets and Southern Nevada's diverse offerings are all driving the destination's 2004 air traffic surge, said Billy Bai, an associate professor of tourism and conventions with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

"Las Vegas has more than any other city can offer in terms of excitement and quality of life," Bai said. "Gaming, entertainment, restaurants, shopping and even outdoor recreational activities all go into the basket to create a really dynamic atmosphere for people who visit here."

Bai said people are typically setting aside terror fears and traveling this summer more than during the past two years or so.

McCarran's May growth and its pace through early 2004 were both more than three times the national average as reported by the Air Transport Association, a Washington-based trade group that tracks the activity of 14 large U.S. carriers.

In May, airlines measured by the association reported more than 40.7 million enplaned domestic passengers, up 4.9 percent from a year ago. During the year's first five months, those carriers boarded a combined 193.1 million air travelers, up 4.7 percent for the same period in 2003.

The association's figures do not include flights from the United States to foreign destinations, a category that made up approximately 2 percent of McCarran's total traffic so far this year.

Of McCarran's five largest carriers, only American failed to report a double-digit percentage increase in its May traffic total.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines again led the pack with 1.1 million May passengers, up 10.4 percent. Through May, its 5.24 million passenger count was up 9.3 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

Despite its top executive's dire warnings this week in Las Vegas of pending airline shutdowns caused by high fuel costs and increased competition, America West Airlines' local traffic took off in May. The Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier handled 591,425 passengers during the month, up 15.4 percent. Its year-to-date total of 2.73 million passengers was 14.8 percent better than its 2003 pace.

Bankrupt carrier United Airlines also found good news in Southern Nevada thanks to its 293,405 May passengers, up 25.9 percent from last year. United spokesman Steve Roth credited that growth to February's debut of Ted, United's low-fare spinoff.

"This is a product we've deployed specifically for leisure destinations, and consumers have been very responsive to the lower fares," Roth said.

Also, Ted aircraft were reconfigured to all-economy class, which made room for 18 additional seats per aircraft.

"The number of flights hasn't changed, but our capacity to Las Vegas has grown," Roth said of the new seats, adding this is the only United market that's been exclusively converted to Ted service.

Through May, United/Ted carried 1.3 million Las Vegas passengers this year, up 14.6 percent.

Separately, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines reported 230,199 May passengers, up 18.2 percent, while American's 218,920 May total represented a 3.9 percent gain.

On the year, Delta's 1.13 million total was an 8.1 percent improvement, while American's 1.05 million passenger total showed a 6 percent gain.

Virgin Atlantic, Las Vegas' sole direct carrier serving the stalwart British travel market, handled 13,043 May passengers, a 67.2 percent gain from a year ago. On the year, Virgin's 61,242 passenger count was up 67.8 percent through May.