Updated January 29, 2020 - 11:24 am
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas reached new heights in 2019 as expected, seeing a record 51.5 million travelers pass through its gates.
It was the third-straight year of record annual passenger volume. A strong December saw 4.2 million passengers use the airport, pushing it well over the 50 million mark for the year, the Clark County Department of Aviation announced Wednesday.
This is the first year McCarran has surpassed 50 million travelers after nearing the mark in 2018 in what was the previous record count of 49.7 million passengers. That mark surpassed 2017’s record-setting mark of 48.5 million passengers, which surpassed the mark set in 2007 of 47.7 million passengers.
“As an industry sustained by passengers we are so grateful to the locals and visitors who chose to travel in 2019,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Department of Aviation director. “This incredible year for McCarran was made possible because of the foresight in planning and investments in infrastructure necessary to handle this record number of travelers. As passenger volume has grown, we have continually evaluated the airport and its processes seeking ways to enhance customer service, maximize efficiencies and increase operational flexibility.”
9th straight year of increase
Not only was 2019 a new record, it marked the ninth-straight year McCarran saw a year-over-year passenger volume increase.
Domestic passenger traffic spiked by 3.9 percent for the year, with more than 2 million more passengers arriving and departing compared to 2018.
International traffic remained steady in 2019, with more than 3.8 million international passengers passing through McCarran. That occurred as the airport was adding new international service last year with the introduction of nonstop flights to markets such as Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Frankfurt.
Low-cost carriers gain
The year also saw the continuation of the trend of travelers flying on low-cost carriers, with Frontier Airlines (34.7 percent) and Spirit Airlines (23.2 percent) posting significant year-over-year growth.
Spirit overtook Delta as the second busiest carrier by passenger volume with its year-over-year increase, seeing 5.26 million passengers, just edging Delta’s 5.24 million passengers.
“We’ve been the fastest growing carrier at McCarran for five years,” said John Kirby, vice president of network planning for Spirit. “It’s been a a rapid ascent to the No. 2 position there.”
Kirby attributed the increase to continued growth of the Las Vegas area and the addition of routes in-and-out of McCarran, including five new routes added in 2019.
“Clearly we like what we see and we certainly view Las Vegas as a growth destination,” Kirby said. “The great thing about Vegas is everyone wants to go there, but population has been growing and sometimes people want to get away.”
With 2020 and beyond shaping up to see several large attractions go online including Allegaint Stadium, the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion and Resorts World opening, the potential for further growth is strong, Kirby said.
“There’s really almost unlimited demand going into Las Vegas,” Kirby said. “It reflects the capacity we put into the market place.”
Kirby said Spirit will continue to add new nonstop routes and to bolster frequency of existing routes to McCarran to accommodate the expected demand.
Southwest Airlines maintained its position as the market leader by a healthy margin, but the airline saw a 3.7 percent dip in passenger volume in 2019, seeing a total of 17.3 million passengers last year. Southwest operates 228 flights a day between Las Vegas and 54 destinations.
Southwest spokesman Dan Landson tied the passenger dip to the ongoing grounding of Boeing MAX jets, which Southwest has 34 in its fleet, but declined to speculate on if the passenger decline is expected to continue.
“We can’t speak to future bookings but the MAX has been removed from service through June 6,” Landson said.
JetBlue saw the largest dip in passenger count of the larger carriers, dropping to 1.1 million passengers in 2019, down 8.8 percent over 2018’s 1.2 million passengers.