Virgin Atlantic to expand Las Vegas-UK flights in 2011

British air carrier Virgin Atlantic will increase its service between Las Vegas and the United Kingdom next year, announcing Wednesday it would launch twice-weekly flights between McCarran International Airport and Manchester.

The additional flights, which will start in April 2011, will give Virgin Atlantic nine direct flights a week between Las Vegas and England. Virgin Atlantic has been flying between London’s Gatwick Airport and Las Vegas since June 2000 and has carried almost 2 million passengers on the route.

The new service will operate on Thursdays and Sundays.

The direct link between Las Vegas and Manchester was lost in April 2009 when BMI dropped the route along with other trans-Atlantic flights to areas including Chicago and the Caribbean.

“The decision to expand our Manchester flying program underlines Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to flying to long-haul destinations from regional airports in the U.K.,” Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Officer Steve Ridgway said.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has been seeking to add new direct flights between McCarran and foreign destinations to augment visitation. The casino industry has been looking toward foreign customers to fill some 6,000 new hotel rooms that Las Vegas resort operators added at the end of the last year.

Clark County Department of Aviation Director Randall H. Walker said the airport and convention authority have been working to find an air carrier to replace BMI.

“Outside of cities in Canada, Manchester was one of the top five international feeder markets for Las Vegas as recently as a year ago,” Walker said. “In its last 12 months of operation, we know that BMI’s flights here were approximately 80 percent full, and we believe that demand from Manchester is still present today.”

Through February, 293,470 international travelers have flown in and out of McCarran through the international terminal, a 4.4 percent increase. In 2009, almost 1.9 million travelers came through the airport’s international terminal, which was a 15 percent decline from 2008.

“Virgin Atlantic’s new service into Las Vegas from Manchester is indicative of its long-term confidence in Las Vegas,” said Cathy Tull, the convention authority’s senior vice president of marketing.

Both the existing service and the new Manchester-to-Las Vegas route will be operated by a Boeing 747-400 fitted with 14 upper-class suites, 58 premium economy and 379 economy seats. The upper-class suite consists of a reclining seat for take off, a place for dining and a private onboard bar.

British Airways currently offers nonstop flights daily between McCarran and London’s Heathrow Airport.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at or 702-477-3871.

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