As US airlines go, so go the airports that exist to serve them. When air carriers experience growth so, too, do the airports which serve them. Of course, when airlines reduce flights, layoff employees and generally hunker down to ride out tough economic times airports invariably share in their pain. Such has been the case with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but there have also been a few hopeful signs of late that a return to normalcy may be in the offing for at least one US airport.
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (LAS) serves as a good example of how COVID-19 has affected both airlines and airports. In 2019, LAS handled an average of 141,000 passengers daily, with many people flying into and out of the airport. By way of comparison, this past April saw a total of only 152,716 travelers pass through the airport in the entire month. Both Las Vegas and the airlines serving it essentially went into a complete lockdown in an effort to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and McCarran’s passenger numbers illustrate that effort. In fact, until the lockdown the airport had been on track to experience its busiest and most successful year ever as people from around the world flocked to the gambling and convention hub to experience its many diversions.
Fortunately for McCarran, May of this year saw the airport double up on April’s passenger numbers, a potential indicator of a slow rebound in the offing. In June, McCarran finally exceeded 1 million travelers for the month, or about a quarter the number of travelers passing through before the coronavirus pandemic struck. While a million passengers is still relatively low when compared to 2019 numbers of about 4.2 million travelers monthly, it’s no doubt better than what many other US airports are currently experiencing as they struggle to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Leisure vs. Business Travel
For a variety of reasons, airline analysts generally expect leisure travel to bounce back more quickly than business travel. Technology has enabled many a corporation or other organization to hold business meetings and gatherings online, for one. Leisure and vacation travel, though, is of a different character and the desire to see places like Las Vegas or other popular tourist destinations isn’t easily accommodated through some sort of virtual reality experience, at least not yet. So while the city and its main airport will doubtlessly continue seeing fewer business and convention travelers its strong appeal as a prime tourist destination still seems assured.
McCarran Helps Out
McCarran International Airport leadership has also done its part to help ensure Las Vegas remains a place friendly to both travelers as well as the airlines which bring them to the city. The airport has frozen its landing fees and rates as well as all other facility charges airlines pay to the airport to give air carriers certainty on what it will cost them to fly there. With cost certainty, the airlines which service Las Vegas can design their flight schedules around the leisure traveler to the city and continue or even grow the number of flights to the town, a move which will benefit the city and its major airport as well as the airlines and their passengers, making for a true winning situation for everyone involved.
Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 450-plus commercial airports.