Passenger counts at McCarran decline slightly for seventh straight month

Passenger counts at McCarran International Airport fell by less than 1 percent during August despite a sizable increase in customer traffic by Southwest Airlines, the airport's top carrier.

The decline was the seventh straight monthly decrease, according to figures released Wednesday by the Clark County Department of Aviation.

McCarran drew 3,493,158 passengers during the month, down 0.4 percent from 3,505,650 passengers the same month a year ago.

For the first eight months of 2010, more than 26.5 million passengers have come through McCarran, a decline of 2.4 percent from almost 27.3 million passengers during the same time period in 2009.

Union Gaming Group principal Bill Lerner said the decrease in passengers during August was minimal and may be a sign that the market is stabilizing.

Gaming analysts have grown concerned that not enough air travelers are coming through McCarran to service the Strip's base of 148,524 hotel and motel rooms.

Lerner thought a move by Southwest Airlines, which announced plans this week to buy low-cost rival air carrier AirTran for $1.4 billion, could help in any recovery in the market. He didn't expect, however, a large increase in Southwest flights once the deal is completed.

"It's a marginally positive deal because it could add to more regional connectivity," he said. "Any direct or indirect connections that make it easier for people to come to Las Vegas is a good thing."

Southwest saw its passenger counts jump 3.1 percent in August. For the year, Southwest is up 0.1 percent in its passenger numbers with its 10.5 million customers through August, accounting for roughly 39 percent of the airport's total passenger base.

Delta Airlines saw its McCarran passenger counts increase 7 percent during August, but any gains by the top two airlines were offset by a 53.9 percent decline from US Airways, which sliced the number of flights it operates at McCarran in half this year.

Allegiant Air, which cracked McCarran's top five air carriers in passenger counts in July, fell back to sixth in August. However the Las Vegas-based airlines announced plans Tuesday to operate three flights a week between McCarran and Bakersfield, Calif.

Lerner said Allegiant, which has announced several new connections into McCarran in recent months, is taking a view that Las Vegas will show signs of recovery from its economic malaise.

"They are investing in the downturn because they believe in the recovery," Lerner said. "They are a well-capitalized company with a sound balance sheet. Allegiant believes the market will stabilize from a tourism perspective."

Through August, Allegiant's passenger counts at McCarran are up 4.4 percent from a year ago.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at or 702-477-3871.