Volaris picks up defunct Mexicana's flight schedule with success

Partially filling the void left by the bankruptcy of Mexicana Airlines, discounter Volaris on Wednesday launched daily service out of McCarran International Airport.

The once-a-day nonstops to Guadalajara, in the heart of tequila country, match the schedule that Mexicana, once one of the largest foreign carriers into Las Vegas, flew prior to its shutdown in August. With early bookings filling more than 90 percent of the route's seats, about 10 percentage points better than the rest of the Volaris system, CEO Enrique Beltranena announced that company officials had decided a couple of weeks ago to add second flights on Fridays and Sundays starting May 20.

Mexicana also flew to Mexico City, but AeroMexico has picked up part of that slack.

Volaris appeals mainly to vacationers and people visiting relatives, not businessmen, and tries to underprice its competition. As a one-day promotion marking its fifth anniversary earlier this month, Volaris priced all its flights originating in Mexico at one peso.

The large Hispanic presence in the valley played a major role in the airline deciding to come here, a plan in place well before the collapse of Mexicana.

"Vegas is a city the we can modestly say operates because of a lot of Mexicans working here," he said.

That had helped, he said, sell about the same number of tickets in Las Vegas as at home. By contrast, many other foreign carriers sell only a small percentage of seats locally.

In addition, the co-marketing agreement with Southwest helps feed more passengers into its planes. Including the addition of Chicago Midway Airport in December, Volaris now reaches Southwest's two busiest cities.

Direct service to Mexico has taken several hits in the past three years, including the end of US Airways flights, Mexican carrier Aviacsa pulling out in 2009 and the demise of Mexicana, by far the biggest flow. In just eight months last year, Mexicana carried 133,000 people in and out of McCarran compared to 94,000 for AeroMexico for all 12 months.

At the same time, several U.S. carriers have moved to beef up their schedules, but from other cities. United/Continental, for example, added Mexico flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But Beltranena said he expects Volaris to hold its own in the face of the heightened competition.

"We are the lowest-cost carrier, without a doubt," he said. "We are the only ones who can make money at our prices."

Consciously modeled after Southwest, Volaris blends in its own Latin style. Where Southwest flight attendants often wear open-neck shirts and shorts in summer, Volaris flight attendants walk the airplane aisles in three-piece suits and specially designed dresses with coordinated hats.

Since starting in 2006, Volaris has built up its fleet to 26 planes and now serves 30 cities, including 26 in Mexico. By the end of May, the roster will grow to include Fresno and Oakland.

"There are Hispanic communities not only in Mexico but the U.S.," Beltranena said. "The border line just happens to be in the middle."

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.