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Frontier Airlines CEO ready to help tourists return to Las Vegas

Updated May 12, 2020 - 12:50 pm

With tourism at a standstill in Las Vegas, Frontier Airlines plans to help promote visitation to the city once the resort corridor begins to reopen.

McCarran International Airport’s fifth-busiest carrier, according to March data, is all in to help bring travelers back to Southern Nevada once the Gaming Control Board approves resort properties’ plans for reopening.

Frontier President and CEO Barry Biffle made a quick stop in Las Vegas on Monday, meeting with resort and travel partners to talk about how they will reopen Las Vegas and how Frontier can help.

“The No. 1 thing I think people are looking for today is to make sure that all of us in the travel community are keeping them safe,” Biffle told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “At Frontier we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe on board and when they travel. Once they get here (Las Vegas), the hotels and casinos and all the restaurants are going to have to do their part to make sure that consumers feel safe and that they won’t contract coronavirus when they’re having their experience.

“Unless we keep people safe, we can’t get them to come back to Vegas. If we can’t get them to come back to Vegas, we’re going to have unemployment for a long time. So, we’re just trying to do our part to get the economy back going.”

Frontier has taken a layered approach to its safety protocols, starting with HEPA filtration systems and increased cleaning and sanitation measures. It also was among the first airlines in the U.S. to require masks for passengers, and it plans to add thermal testing of passengers and customers beginning June 1.

“This layered approach, coupled with the temperature measurement we’re going to do in a few weeks, we believe is what people need to feel safe,” Biffle said.

Various resort groups have been rolling out their safety plans, with Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International already putting out their reopening blueprints.

Although Frontier is the first carrier at McCarran to announce temperature requirements (anyone with a 100.4 temperature or above won’t be allowed to fly or work), Biffle said the Transportation Security Administration should take the lead on the safety measure.

“We would love for TSA and the airports to do it (temperature check),” he said. “We think it should be done at the curb. Unfortunately, we can’t catch everybody at the different entrances; it’s not our property, either. What we can do is guarantee that once you get on board our aircraft no one is going to have a fever on board.”

With air travel taking a huge hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Frontier’s passenger volume in Las Vegas saw an 11 percent decrease in March compared with March 2019, and a larger drop is expected when April data is released this month by the Clark County Department of Aviation.

Frontier received $200 million in federal payroll support that will go toward ensuring it can pay its employees as passenger volume remains down. The airline also applied for up to $500 million in federal loans that it is awaiting a decision on.

“About $170 million of it is a grant that covers roughly half of our payroll for about six months, which saved the government from having to do unemployment if we were to lay anyone off,” Biffle said.

Biffle didn’t want to speculate on the pandemic’s possible long-term effects on the airline, instead preferring to focus on the near term and bringing back business to the nation’s skies.

“We’re focused on getting the economy back going and get people back traveling,” he said. “I know a lot of people are talking about having to downsize and so forth, and I think all of us in Las Vegas and Frontier … need to do our part to get the economy back going so we don’t have to make some tough decisions.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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Will Las Vegas casinos’ safety plans help lure back visitors?

Experts say the transparency is just another way companies can reassure guests and employees that their facilities are safe enough to return to. But, ultimately, only the number of people who end up inside the reopened resorts will show whether that reassurance is enough.