The October passenger count at McCarran International Airport released Wednesday changed only slightly from one year ago, in keeping with the unspectacular performances extending more than a year.
But in a whiff of good news for a visitor industry craving more customers, four of the past six months have shown increases. October’s 3.7 million passengers was 1.2 percent better than a year earlier. During the 12 months ending in April, by contrast, traffic showed year-over-year declines nine times, including one stretch of six in a row.
Near-term flight schedules show the number of seats that airlines will bring into McCarran growing about 2 percent a month through February, portending continued modest gains in passenger totals.
With 43 percent of the tourists and conventioneers having arrived by air in 2012, according to the airport’s annual audit, airline scheduling is the critical link to boosting a Strip caught in a plodding economic recovery.
During the 10 months to date, the 35.2 million McCarran passengers were 0.2 percent better than in 2012, close to the 0.3 percent slip in total visitors. Further, hotel occupancy and average daily room rates still lag pre-recession levels.
Domestic airlines’ passenger counts rose 0.9 percent in October, stemming from the mixed results reported by individual carriers. Market leader Southwest and subsidiary AirTran rose 0.5 percent, as Southwest continued its recent strategy of reducing the number of flights but flying planes with more seats.
Among the largest carriers, Delta posted the strongest results with a 9.9 percent flier count gain. But all of that came largely from eliminating service by regional jets flown by Skywest under the Delta banner as continuing high fuel prices have made some small jets unprofitable to operate. Excluding that factor, Delta posted a slight decline.
Las Vegas-based Allegiant, McCarran’s fifth-largest carrier, continued to trim its presence with a 3.4 percent flier count decline. The discount airline announced or launched a rash of new routes in the past month, but none of them included Las Vegas.
With new service, discounter Spirit increased its passenger count 29.2 percent, by far the best performance of any carrier with at least 100,000 passengers a month. Several small airlines, including Hawaiian, JetBlue and Frontier, posted double-digit declines.
The growth of international traffic, which accounts for 7 percent of McCarran’s total, slowed to 1.7 percent in October compared with 4.3 percent for the year.
Like their domestic brethren, the results varied widely carrier by carrier and were held down by three airlines that have dropped Las Vegas this year.
The flier count for Canada’s WestJet gained 9.9 percent, putting it on course to become the first foreign airline to fly more than 1 million people into and out of McCarran in one year.
In the duel over the Atlantic, British Airways’ flier count rose 23.9 percent for October while archrival Virgin Atlantic’s dropped 11.2 percent.
The passenger count for Korean Airlines, the only carrier to fly from Las Vegas across the Pacific, was down 6.6 percent after rising 20.8 percent for the year.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at email@example.com or at 702-387-5290.