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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Las Vegas: A flier's guide to McCarran

15 December 2008

Business travelers know there have been a lot of changes at McCarran International Airport in the past year.

But it can be daunting for the holidays-only flier trying to make his way through the nation's seventh-busiest airport. The changes affect everything from how early you get there to where to park.

Here's a guide for those once-in-a while fliers:

How early do I have to be there?

Always a moving target, the answer is complicated this holiday season because of a major rehabilitation project under way on one of McCarran's four runways.

Although McCarran officials recommend arriving at the airport 90 minutes ahead of flight time to make it through potential lines, it's a greater possibility today than it was a year ago that flights will be delayed.

How can I check on flight delays?

There are several ways to find whether a flight is on schedule. McCarran officials recommend passengers call their airline. Most airlines have voice-activated menus that enable passengers to find flight numbers, which can be used to determine what time the flight departs and arrives.

McCarran also has an Internet site — — that offers flight information within four hours of an arrival and departure. The information can be accessed at the "flight information" tab on the Web site's home page.

What causes delays?

Flight delays occur primarily because of bad weather — and it doesn't have to be bad weather in Las Vegas. Weather problems in other cities can create delays for certain flights, and airlines that experience delays early in the day are challenged to catch up. So, flights early in the day have the best chance of being on time, and delays are more likely as the day progresses.

The busiest travel days at McCarran are Thursdays and Sundays, when it's important to pay even closer attention to the possibility of a delay.

Some delays are being caused by work on McCarran's runways. One of two east-west runways is being resurfaced and is out of commission till May 1. Because the flight path on the open east-west runway intersects with the two north-south runways, there's greater potential for delay when there are southwesterly winds.

Where should I be dropped off?

Once you've decided about when to get to the airport, consider your arrival options. The least-expensive option: Have someone drop you off. But where you get dropped off will depend on what luggage you're taking.

If you're checking luggage, it's easiest to use the Passenger Drop-off and Ticketing curb. Those are the terminal doors closest to the airline ticket counters. The ticket counters on the north part of the terminal — the first doors you approach as you arrive at the airport, serve American, Alaska, Midwest, Frontier, Virgin America, Spirit, Northwest, Continental, JetBlue, Delta, AirTran and Sun Country airlines.

On the south side, you'll find Allegiant Air, Southwest, US Airways and the United Airlines family of Ted, United and United Express.

For those traveling internationally, to Hawaii or on a charter flight, your plane normally is at Terminal 2, which has its own pickup and drop-off areas and separate short-term parking area. Follow the signs and directions to Terminal 2.

What if I'm not checking my bag?

If you choose not to check a bag, the ideal place to be dropped off is at the Passenger Pickup curb. To get there, follow the red arrows and the ramps to McCarran's short-term parking area.

Remember, whether a passenger is dropped at the Passenger Drop-off-Ticketing curb or the Passenger Pickup curb, you aren't allowed to park there. Traffic enforcement officials are usually present to keep vehicles moving in the drop-off areas, and if you leave your car, even for a few seconds, your car could be towed or you could receive a $160 citation.

Where do I check my bags?

If you haven't traveled by air in a while, you should know most airlines will charge you for checking a suitcase. The price varies by airline and by the number of bags you check.

People who check their bags are supposed to leave them unlocked so the Transportation Security Administration can open them if their scanners find something they question. For those who want to lock their suitcases, there are administration-approved suitcases and locks that can be purchased at travel gear stores.

For those who check bags, the next step is going upstairs, by escalator or elevator, to the security lanes to get to the gates.

But there's something new for Southwest Airlines travelers — and 35 percent of those who fly out of McCarran use Southwest.

There are 12 new lanes accessible on the southern end of the first-floor ticketing lobby. The C Annex Security Checkpoint opened last month and provides more lanes for travelers going out of the C gates, from which most Southwest flights depart.

Do all Southwest flights use the C gates?

For those checking and not checking bags, be sure to check the departure monitors to make sure your Southwest flight leaves from the C gates. Because of Southwest's large presence in Las Vegas, a few Southwest flights leave from the B gates.

By the end of the year, McCarran plans to open a pedestrian bridge linking the A and B gates with the C gates, which would alleviate the access problem. The pedestrian bridge also will have some new-to-McCarran retail outlets — Wendy's, Villa Pizza and Sammy's Beach Bar & Grill, developed by rocker Sammy Hagar.

What about the D gates?

The addition of the C Annex Security Checkpoint has enabled McCarran to dedicate more security lanes to D gate fliers at the C/D checkpoint. Now, 17 of the 19 lanes can be dedicated to those who fly on the 16 airlines that use the D gates, which include many of the legacy carriers such as United, American, Northwest, Delta and Continental and some of the long-haul up-and-comers such as JetBlue, Virgin America, AirTran and Alaska.

McCarran recently opened the $179 million northwest wing expansion of the D gates, a nine-gate addition that gives the newest part of the airport a capacity of 44 aircraft.

What about carrying on liquids?

Although there has been discussion about doing away with the carry-on rule limiting the amount of liquids a passenger can take on a plane, they're still in place.

The Transportation Security Administration's 3-1-1 rule limits passengers to 3-ounce containers in a quart-size plastic bag, one per customer. Passengers wanting more information on what they can and can't take on the plane can access the Web site One definite no-no is taking wrapped presents, in either checked or carry-on luggage. The administration says leave everything unwrapped.

What public transportation is available?

There are several options to consider.

Taking Citizens Area Transit buses to the airport is a difficult option if only because it's no fun if you have to haul suitcases on and off a bus. But it is possible to park for free at a the South Strip Transit Center at Sunset Road and Gilespie Street, a 10-minute bus ride to and from the airport on CAT Route 109. There are 100 parking spaces at the transit center available on a first-come, first-served basis and the bus drops passengers off at Terminal 1's "Zero Level" near elevators and escalators.

Six companies offer some form of airport shuttle service to area resorts. Although most resorts frown on locals parking their cars in hotel parking facilities and riding a shuttle to the airport, some people do it to dodge the higher cost of airport parking.

The cost of an airport shuttle ranges from $6 to $6.50 ($11 to $13 round trip) from Strip hotels to $7.50 to $9 ($14 to $16 round trip) from downtown or off-Strip properties.

Most of Clark County's 16 taxi companies can deliver passengers to McCarran and because the companies are regulated, there's no difference in the pricing.

If I drive, where can I park?

The last option is to drive to the airport — and there are some new twists on that front.

With construction well under way on McCarran's $2.4 billion Terminal 3 project, the airport's economy lot has been moved.

The airport's new 5,100-vehicle economy parking lot got its first significant use during the Thanksgiving weekend. Located just south of Tropicana Avenue on the west side of Paradise Road, the lot can be accessed by turning west off Paradise onto Gus Guiffre Drive or Kitty Hawk Way.

Economy lot customers pay a maximum of $8 for uncovered parking and then get on shuttle buses to the terminals.

What are the other parking options?

There are five other parking options at McCarran.

The most popular is the 3,350-space long-term parking garage adjacent to Terminal 1 — and that's usually the first area to fill during the holidays. Garage parkers pay up to $14 a day. The long-term valet lot has 1,000 spaces and the price is up to $21 a day.

Terminal 2 has the smallest of the lots with 270 spaces and the price is up to $8 a day.

Two lots are available during the busiest times when the economy lot fills. Those are the McCarran remote lot, a 1,950-space uncovered lot across the street from the McCarran Rent-A-Car Center on Gilespie Street between Warm Springs Road and Interstate 215 and the 1,150-space red overflow lot near the Thomas & Mack Center on the north side of Tropicana Avenue between Paradise Road and Swenson Street.

The remote lots are inexpensive — up to $5 a day — but they're open only on an as-needed basis. The airport offers updates on which lots have filled by calling 261-5122.

Airport officials recommend that travelers who use the economy and remote lots add 30 minutes to their preboarding time.

McCarran's parking lots have 24-hour security as well as a service to repair flat tires and jump-start cars with dead batteries.