Las Vegas may get an unwitting assist from Delta Air Lines to convince foreign air carriers to fly nonstop international routes from Asia to McCarran International Airport.
Delta, recently unseated as the second-busiest air carrier at McCarran as a result of the merger between US Airways and American Airlines, has been supportive of one-stop service from Asia to Las Vegas by way of Seattle.
Delta recently added five new daily flights between Seattle and Las Vegas to connect with flights to Seattle from China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority would leverage the growth of those routes to convince Japanese and Chinese air carriers to consider nonstop flights to McCarran, particularly since it’s highly unlikely that Delta or any other U.S. carrier would offer their own nonstop flights.
Nonstop flights from China to Las Vegas have long been a goal of the organization that markets the destination abroad as well as McCarran. The authority’s board of directors heard the strategy in Tuesday’s board meeting in a report on the status of increasing air service to Las Vegas.
Damon Hylton, vice president of Seabury LPG, told the board that passenger counts are up 19 percent from Europe since the recession, 78 percent from Latin America and 30 percent from Asia. But Asia is recognized as the market with the greatest growth potential with millions of middle-class Chinese tourists capable of traveling overseas.
McCarran and the authority have worked with Delta to expand one-stop service between Asian cities and Las Vegas by way of Seattle. Hylton said the group plans to show some of that data to Asian carriers to convince them to consider nonstop flights.
U.S. legacy air carriers rarely show any interest in flying directly from an Asian destination to Las Vegas because they operate cost-saving hub-and-spoke routes that connect passengers to hub airports for connecting flights. Seattle is a hub for Delta.
Hylton said the authority and the airport met with foreign carriers during last fall’s World Routes conference in Las Vegas.
“We have now met multiple times with each of the major Chinese and Japanese carriers,” Hylton told the board. He did not say which air carriers the group has contacted.
“We had one carrier tell us that we were the first ones to meet and talk with them about a strategy” for nonstop service competing with one-stop flights, he said.
Japan Airlines once ran nonstop flights between Tokyo and Las Vegas, but those were suspended and discontinued after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Prior to that, Northwest Airlines, which eventually merged with Delta, had the first overseas service to Las Vegas from Tokyo in 1998. Northwest exited the market when Japan Airlines began competing.
Other international highlights:
— Three airlines are planning overseas seasonal charter service to Las Vegas in the months ahead. AirEuropa plans nonstop routes from Madrid, Spain, once a week, Air Transat will offer nonstops twice a week from Montreal and Thomas Cook Airline will add Glasgow, Scotland, and London’s Stansted International Airport to its route map a combined once a week.
— Canada-based WestJet Airlines, which last year became the first international airline to carry more than 1 million passengers to Las Vegas, recently announced it would base an aircraft at McCarran.
— Two foreign discount carriers have announced routes to Las Vegas, Air Canada’s Rouge, which has taken over all Air Canada routes, and Contigo, a discount subsidiary of Aeromexico offering seasonal flights from Guadalajara, Mexico.
Seabury has crossed a number of other goals off its air service development list. It has bolstered relationships with Southwest Airlines to get nonstop flights from two former AirTran destinations — Des Moines, Iowa, and Flint, Mich. — and with Allegiant Air, which is promising international service to two destinations in Mexico from Las Vegas, probably next year.
It also has boosted flights on Panama-based Copa Airlines to 12 a week while recruiting business from South American air carriers. Las Vegas also acquired nonstop service to the largest domestic city without nonstop flights — Anchorage, Alaska — on Alaska Airlines.
In the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, passenger volume has increased 1.8 percent while capacity has risen 1.7 percent, an indication that Las Vegas has helped fill a greater percentage of seats on planes. That makes airlines and locals happy since it has resulted in an estimated $466 million in nongaming economic impact for the city.
Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.