November passenger traffic at McCarran dips slightly

The mild slump in McCarran International Airport’s passenger counts that began at mid-year continued into November, airport officials reported Friday.

During the month, the 3.3 million people who flew in and out of Las Vegas marked a 0.3 percent decrease from one year ago. For the 11 months to date, the passenger count of 38.5 million was 0.6 percent higher than the same period in 2011, propelled by stronger results in winter and spring.

For the first five months of this year, traffic was up 2.4 percent as the recovery that took hold in early 2011 continued. But four of the five months starting in June have shown declines, none larger than 3 percent, as airlines tightened their schedules in the face of continuing high fuel prices and a strategy of driving up ticket prices by constricting supply.

Although still a popular destination, Las Vegas’ appeal to airlines has been limited by chronically low fares because of the high percentage of leisure passengers compared with the business road warriors who often pay much more for seats.

The domestic carriers, off 0.7 percent in November, had mixed results. Southwest and subsidiary AirTran rose 2.1 percent and maintained its 40 percent market share, by far the largest at McCarran. But other established airlines, including Delta, United and US Airways, all continued to pull back. American, still in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, reversed its declines in recent months to grow by 8.2 percent.

Some of the younger airlines, which earlier had filled some of the service gaps left by older rivals, saw their growth rates shrink. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air was up only 1.9 percent for the month after being ahead 20.7 percent in the five months through May. Spirit, JetBlue and Virgin America all have posted much smaller gains or even declines.

International traffic in November rose 6 percent to 254,000 passengers, but the number was too small to entirely offset the domestic retrenchment.

The biggest drag came from Canadian discounter WestJet, which accounts for a third of international traffic and has been responsible for most of the category’s growth in recent years. Its passenger count fell 5.2 percent in November and likely will fall short of the 1 million mark for 2012 after being on a pace to top it earlier in the year.

The other carriers included a mix of gains and declines.

Since more than 40 percent of Las Vegas visitors fly to Las Vegas, McCarran results are a closely watched barometer of the Strip’s economic health.

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


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