Fulfilling predictions that the year would start slowly, passenger traffic at McCarran International Airport dipped slightly in January.
The monthly summary released Thursday by the Clark County Department of Aviation shows 3.1 million people passed through the airport in January, a 1.6 percent decline from one year ago. Traffic has dropped in seven of the last eight months, but four times by less than 1 percent.
Following the recent pattern, domestic carriers’ flier counts were down 1.9 percent while traffic for international carriers rose 1.8 percent. Because the domestic passenger counts are 13 times larger than international, they carry much greater weight when calculating the overall changes.
The most recent schedules compiled by McCarran officials suggest some relief may come in the spring. The number of seats that airlines bring into Las Vegas was expected to drop 0.4 percent in February, gain 1.6 percent in March, drop 0.8 percent in April then rise 2.4 percent in May.
But if recent history holds, rising fuel prices, much like the ones drivers have seen at gas stations, could prompt airlines to trim weaker-performing routes.
The commonly owned and managed Southwest and AirTran, with by far the biggest market share at McCarran, reported a 1.3 percent drop even though Southwest has expanded the seating capacity on its planes. Southwest not only cut 40 of its flights to 1,316, but continued to shrink AirTran en route to disappearing.
Among the other largest airlines, Delta, Allegiant and American carried more passengers, while United continued to decline.
Some of the secondary carriers that fueled growth before the slump that started last spring have started trailing off. Virgin America, JetBlue, and Hawaiian were all down, and Alaska was up just 0.6 percent. US Airways, once the second-largest airline when it operated a hub out of concourses A and B, continued to reduce its presence with a 7.7 percent decline.
International growth was uneven. Canada’s WestJet, by far the largest airline to come to Las Vegas from across a border, went down 3.5 percent after several years of building its schedules. However, the 4.6 percent gain recorded by Air Canada almost offset WestJet.
Heading south, both AeroMexico and Volaris showed declines, partly counterbalanced by the entry of Interjet. A fourth Mexican carrier, Vivaaerobus, exited the Las Vegas market.
The number of visitors coming from or through Great Britain gained as British Airways’ gain was larger than the reduction at Virgin Atlantic.
Strip executives and Wall Street analysts watch the passenger totals to gauge where the visitor industry is heading. Although people coming by car has offset the slumping performance at McCarran so far, Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority surveys have shown that air travelers usually stay longer and spend more than drivers.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.