With the precision of a Swiss watch, Edelweiss Air arrived in Las Vegas on time — actually, five minutes early — in the airline’s inaugural flight from Zurich, Switzerland.
The airline’s twin-engine Airbus A330 jet rolled through a wind-altered water arch at McCarran International Airport Monday, the first of a series of twice-weekly flights linking one of Europe’s top financial centers with the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Edelweiss’ first flight had 263 passengers, about 88 percent of the sold capacity. The airline on Monday used a larger plane than what it normally will fly on the route with lie-flat beds in the plane’s filled-to-capacity business class.
Arriving passengers were greeted by showgirls, a cake, champagne and a host of media at the international arrivals lobby at McCarran’s two-year-old Terminal 3.
Bruno Speck, the captain on the 11½-hour trip, said it was a routine flight, although a 24-mph wind buffeted the plane as it arrived in Las Vegas.
“This is a great day in our history,” said Alain Chisari, customer care officer for 20-year-old Edelweiss. “We’ve been working to make this flight a reality for more than a year.”
Chisari said advanced bookings for the flight have been brisk with 90 percent of the seats sold for the first months of operation. The airline expects to fly 40,000 passengers to Las Vegas in its first year, producing an estimated $20.3 million in nongaming economic impact on Southern Nevada.
While Zurich is a city about the size of Las Vegas, Edelweiss has a nationwide marketing network because Switzerland’s train system is so robust and it’s easy to travel from anywhere in the country to Zurich International Airport, located in Kloten, Switzerland.
Edelweiss serves 45 destinations in Europe and specializes in flying leisure travelers.
Because Edelweiss is affiliated with Swiss International Air Lines and the Lufthansa Group, which fly routes between Zurich and Los Angeles and San Francisco, the airline sells packages that enable customers to fly to or from any of the three cities.
“The triangle routing is very popular and a number of our customers like to come here because it’s a gateway to several national parks,” Chisari said.
Chris Jones, vice president of public affairs and marketing at McCarran, paid tribute to Clark County officials who made the somewhat unpopular decision to build Terminal 3 in the face of the Great Recession “because they knew there would be days like today in the future.”
Jones said McCarran has seen a 77 percent increase in seat capacity from Europe from 2009 to 2013.
Michael Goldsmith, vice president of international markets for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said there are now 199 flights a week between Las Vegas and 20 international destinations.
International arrivals now represent 20 percent of the city’s visitors, but they represent 32 percent of tourism spend because foreign visitors tend to stay longer and spend more than their domestic counterparts.
Among the Edelweiss visitors that will spend time in Las Vegas are the airline’s nine flight attendants who will stay here through Monday before working the return flight to Zurich.
Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.