The struggling economy’s shadow showed in July at McCarran International Airport. Data released Friday revealed that 9.3 percent fewer passengers arrived at and departed from the airport than a year ago.
The Clark County Department of Aviation said Friday that 3.56 million people flew in and out of McCarran in July, down from 3.92 million a year earlier.
For the year to date through July, McCarran’s arriving-and-departing flier count is down 11.5 percent, having fallen to 23.78 million fliers from 26.86 million fliers in the same period a year earlier.
Michael Boyd, an airline consultant with the Evergreen, Colo., firm Boyd Group, on Friday said Las Vegas’ year-to-date passenger-traffic drop is wider than the nation’s current 8.5 percent dip. He added that he has projected passenger traffic in Las Vegas to fall 14 percent for all of 2009.
Boyd suggested Las Vegas’ current 11.5 percent year-to-date passenger traffic drop could have been shallower if not for comments made earlier this year by President Barack Obama. In a Feb. 9 speech in Elkhart, Ind., Obama criticized bankers from Wells Fargo, which accepted $25 billion in taxpayer money, for planning a 12-day event at Wynn Las Vegas.
“You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime,” Obama said then.
Wells Fargo canceled that trip, and several companies reportedly followed suit. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority officials in February told the Review-Journal that insurance giant State Farm backed out of an event that would have delivered 11,000 room-nights.
“Las Vegas was unfairly singled out as a politically incorrect place to have a business meeting,” Boyd said. “That’s why your passenger traffic is down 11 percent instead of 8 percent.”
The White House has worked to quench the political firestorm that Obama’s comments caused in Nevada. In July, Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wrote a letter to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that said, “Federal policy should not dictate the location where such government events are held.”
Emanuel had responded to Reid’s request for a reversal of a perceived “informal federal policy” that was causing government workers to cancel or not book meetings in Las Vegas to avoid the appearance that taxpayers were funding bureaucratic junkets here.
Despite Emanuel’s effort, Boyd said the damage was done.
“Oh, who cares (about the letter.) It’s a little late for that,” he said. “That’s a little like writing a note to Hiroshima saying ‘We didn’t mean to drop that thing.’
“The president made a dumb comment,” Boyd added. “And you can write all the apology letters you want but people still heard what the president said.”
Meanwhile, McCarran’s monthly data held some bright spots for Las Vegas. Passenger counts rose for three of the top five busiest carriers into the airport. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the busiest carrier, ferried 1,405,593 million fliers, a 0.8 percent jump from 1,393,946 million fliers a year ago.
Also in McCarran’s top five, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines’ flier count rose 1.3 percent to 198,526 from 195,917 and the count for American Airlines, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., rose 8.4 percent to 200,322 from 184,714.
Meanwhile, US Airways’ July flier count fell 41 percent to 414,020 from 701,946 and United Airlines’ July flier count fell 0.4 percent to 248,830 from 249,749.
July passenger traffic for Allegiant Air, a unit of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Co., rose 11.7 percent from a year ago to 182,526 from 163,477.
And Hawaiian Airlines had the biggest July jump, going to 39,581 fliers from 28,310 a year ago, a 39.8 percent rise.
Clark County Aviation Director Randall Walker didn’t return a call for comment late Friday.
But Boyd said that when flier traffic recovers in Las Vegas, national flier-traffic improvement will follow.
“We see Las Vegas traffic as a bellwether,” Boyd said. “When we see traffic in Las Vegas bottom out and start to grow, that means in three to six months we can expect to see traffic grow in the rest of the country.”
Contact reporter Matthew Crowley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0304.