Updated August 21, 2022 - 9:25 am
By October, the airlines serving Harry Reid International Airport will have more seats coming into Las Vegas than anytime in the airport’s history.
That’s because an average 98,697 seats on 31 airlines flying from 146 nonstop markets will be arriving at Reid every day, said the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s aviation consultant this month.
It’s great news for Southern Nevada’s tourism economy, but the challenge now becomes filling most of those seats every flight. The more available seats, the more visitors we see — and June provided an all-time passenger record for the city’s airport of 4.68 million for the month.
“We don’t talk about recovery anymore,” said Joel Van Over, senior director at Ailevon Pacific, an international aviation development company with its North American headquarters in Atlanta. “We talk about growth and opportunities.”
“Recovery” technically happened earlier in the year.
Before 2022, the most seats to come into the Las Vegas market occurred in October 2019 with 85,983. Since that month, Las Vegas airline capacity has been on track to expand by 14.8 percent. The first month to break the record was June, but Van Over said every month since then, and up to October, is or will be a record.
“The leisure market has led the way in our recovery,” Van Over said.
And that’s a good thing.
There’s still room for capacity to increase to better serve the business market. It’s also noteworthy that most of the capacity growth has occurred from domestic air carriers and flights from within the United States, meaning there’s more growth ahead on the international side.
Business customers and international arrivals are most important to Southern Nevada’s economy because those passengers tend to stay longer and spend more money.
International capacity was at a low point in March 2021 with around 1,086 seats coming into the market, an 88.2 percent decline from the previous year, according to Reid International statistics.
With foreign tails returning to the airport, capacity from overseas is now 79 percent recovered from the pre-COVID days with a forecast of 87 percent recovery by October.
Korean Air’s return
One of the biggest bright spots in the international rebound was the return of Korean Air in July, bringing three nonstop flights a week from Seoul to Las Vegas.
At the LVCVA’s monthly board meeting, Van Over introduced Bo-Young “Daniel” Song, Korean Air’s senior vice president, who is responsible for overseeing its partnership with Delta Air Lines. That collaboration is particularly important to Las Vegas because Korean Air is reopening the Asia market for the city.
Korean Air has one-stop reach to every major city in Asia, and Delta may take advantage by connecting its U.S. network from Korean Air’s gateway cities. Song, who was part of the team that started Seoul-Las Vegas service in 2006, said he met with Delta officials in Las Vegas to expand the partnership.
Korean Air, which bumped up its schedule with extra flights in the days before and after CES in pre-pandemic 2019, could expand to five flights a week to and from Seoul if the market can be enhanced.
Asia is the last recovery point in the world now that flights have returned to and from London, Netherlands, Germany and, to the south, South America via Panama. The first international flights to rebound were to and from Mexico and Canada.
How about Japan?
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, an LVCVA board member, was among the passengers to experience the first nonstop flights from London when they began in 1999. She said she would like to see a return of flights to and from Japan — which could be a timely strategy as the country is venturing into legalized gaming this decade, with MGM Resorts International one of its committed vendors in Osaka.
Two other high-profile international destinations still aren’t back.
El Al Airlines once flew nonstop between Las Vegas and Tel Aviv. Hainan Airways used to fly to and from Beijing, discontinuing those three weekly flights and operations to nearly every other U.S. city with which it once connected.
Las Vegas will have another chance to get new flights when the LVCVA and Reid International host the 27th Routes World Development Forum in October.
Routes, which Las Vegas hosted in 2013, brings airlines, airports and destinations together in a speed-meeting format designed to build relationships that lead to new flights.
Being a host city usually provides rewards because airline executives get to see firsthand where they would be delivering their customers.
A missed opportunity
When Miramar, Florida-based Spirit Airlines and Denver’s Frontier Airlines were talking merger earlier this year, it boded well for Las Vegas.
Ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier has expanded dramatically in Las Vegas, now flying to and from 57 destinations. The blending with Spirit, also a fast grower in Las Vegas, would have provided Frontier with new planes and the ability to beef up an already robust schedule with low fares.
But the merger isn’t happening.
JetBlue Airways, which offers a light Las Vegas schedule, emerged as a spoiler and appears likely to acquire Spirit.
Aviation expert Mike Boyd doesn’t understand it.
“JetBlue buying Spirit is like Tiffany buying Target. It’ll give Tiffany access to that lucrative kitchen appliance business,” said Boyd, an Evergreen, Colorado-based aviation consultant notorious for his pointed and amusing analogies. “I’m just trying to figure how they’re going to put it together because the two products are different and the people that fly each airline are very different.”
Frontier and Spirit have similar passengers, those looking for a bargain to get where they want to go. Tickets cost more on JetBlue, which has most of its routes on the East Coast.
“Frontier and Spirit are wildcatters,” Boyd said. “They go into a market just like oil people do. They drop a well and if it works fine, they stay, but if it doesn’t, they leave. JetBlue doesn’t act that way. I thought Spirit and Frontier were a perfect match.”
And it likely would have helped Las Vegas.