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Why doesn’t Southwest have international flights out of Vegas?

Updated September 18, 2022 - 8:30 am

Southwest Airlines, the busiest commercial air carrier serving Harry Reid International Airport, announced this month the largest number of flights in and out of Las Vegas in the airline’s history.

Releasing its new schedule that includes spring travel in March and April, Southwest said that by March, up to 243 daily round trips are planned — beating its previous peak in 2009 of 240 daily flights. It’s also an increase of 12 flights from February 2023’s published schedule.

There’s a lot to love about Southwest these days.

At 243 daily flights, Las Vegas is second only to Denver’s 270 departures as the busiest station Southwest serves.

The Dallas-based airline currently has 230 daily flights to 66 destinations and occupies 21 gates at Reid airport. More than 3,700 people work for the airline in Las Vegas, which is the home of pilot and crew bases.

In July, Southwest flew 1.72 million passengers, a 13.4 percent increase over July 2021.

But even with all those positives, Southwest is missing out on a key market here — international travelers.

In addition to flying to multiple destinations in the Caribbean, Southwest offers service to the Mexican destinations of Cabo San Lucas-Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Cozumel. It also goes to Central America’s Liberia and San Jose in Costa Rica and Belize.

Mexican travelers love Las Vegas almost as much as Hawaiians, who visit Vegas so often that Southern Nevada is affectionately known as “the Ninth Island.”

The city’s sports marketing wizards always seem to find a way to schedule a major boxing match with a popular Mexican fighter around Mexican Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo. Allegiant Stadium has proved its value to soccer fans with major futbol matches that have drawn thousands of fans.

It’s not that Mexico is inaccessible by air.

Aeromexico, Viva Aerobus, Volaris, Copa and Frontier Airlines offer nonstop flights to Las Vegas from Central American destinations. You can even fly Southwest there if you don’t mind a stop to change planes.

Everyone knows that offering nonstop flights is the gold standard.

So why doesn’t Southwest fly nonstop to Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize?

“We’d like to,” Adam Decaire, vice president of network planning for Southwest, said in a recent interview.

“It’s the way the terminals are set up,” he said. “The international flights come out of Terminal 3 and we’re over at Terminal 1.”

What that means is most Las Vegas passengers would check in and fly out of Terminal 1’s B and C gates. But when they return, they’d arrive at Terminal 3’s D or E gates because it’s where passageways that lead to U.S. Customs and Border Protection checks are located. It would likely mean that passengers would claim baggage at Terminal 3 and arrive at a different terminal from which they left. It also means the arriving Southwest aircraft would have to be towed to the other terminal.

“We’ve talked to (Clark County Aviation Director) Rosemary (Vassiliadis) about it,” Decaire said. “The customer experience … how do you figure that out?”

Airport spokesman Joe Rajchel said Reid officials are open to looking at options.

“As the largest carrier at Harry Reid International Airport, Southwest is an invaluable partner in bringing air service to Las Vegas,” Rajchel said. “There are many logistical challenges that would come with potentially launching new international routes. If the airline determines it is beneficial to expand international offerings to LAS, the airport will work to try finding solutions that work for all parties.”

Decaire said he has no doubt that nonstop flights from Las Vegas to Mexico and Central America would be as successful as Southwest’s nonstop Hawaii service. The airline currently has an average of 30 weekly nonstop round trips to four different Hawaiian islands from Reid airport.

Next month, Las Vegas will host the annual Routes World conference bringing airline, airport and destination decision-makers together to discuss the world’s route network.

Maybe that would be a good time for Southwest and Reid airport to figure out a service that would provide a new option for Southern Nevada consumers as well as boost the city’s tourism economy.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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