Passenger count down at McCarran

Due to a grab bag of factors, McCarran International Airport finished the year with a slight drop in passenger traffic.

Bad winter weather that grounded thousands of flights nationwide put a damper at least on flights from Great Britain. Also, some airlines showed substantial decreases while others improved their totals due to planned shifts in their schedules.

The different factors reduced the number of passengers passing through McCarran by 0.4 percent in December compared with one year ago for a total of nearly 3.1 million. For the entire year, the passenger count fell 1.8 percent to 39,757,000 passengers.

United Airlines' count dropped 21.2 percent in December, a plunge far steeper than the 5.2 percent United flights fell for the year. Although some traffic was shifted to Skywest, a commuter carrier flying under the United banner, the number of mainline passengers declined substantially more.

United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said the change resulted from a decision to reduce schedules during December, typically the slowest month of the year in Las Vegas. He said more flights will come here in mid-February.

"The December numbers don't portend any long-term strategy shift for United," Johnson said. "It's really just a seasonal adjustment."

Continental, which now shares common ownership and management with United, also posted passenger declines. Both airlines noted a growing demand by business travelers -- who tend to pay higher fares than the leisure travelers that predominate in the Las Vegas market -- and have started reconfiguring their schedules to capitalize on it. As recently as November, the United and Continental combination ranked as the second-largest carrier at McCarran, but has now fallen to third behind Delta and No. 1 Southwest.

By contrast, the outlook for US Airways has started to show signs of improvement. The steep declines the carrier has recorded for about three years as it dismantled its hub at McCarran have been a drag on the airport's overall results.

US Airways' December passenger traffic was down 22 percent from a year ago, but up 2.2 percent from November.

Southwest Airlines, by far the largest carrier to Las Vegas with a 42 percent market share, showed a 3.3 percent gain in December from a year earlier, reflecting a companywide effort to sell more tickets on each plane. Thanks to expanded flight schedules, Allegiant Air rose 16.1 percent in December and Spirit Airlines 146 percent, although Spirit remains one of the smallest airlines at McCarran.

International traffic, a bright spot for Las Vegas the past couple of years, slid in December. Some of the drop resulted from the collapse of Mexicana in September. And severe weather that shut down London's Heathrow Airport for a few days in December led to double-digit declines for Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at or 702-387-5290.