Passenger Travel to Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport in Decline

Posted on: September 27, 2021, 03:21h. 

Last updated on: September 29, 2021, 07:56h.

The number of passengers who used McCarran International Airport in August dropped to its lowest level since the beginning of the summer. International travel also remained in a steep slump, according to airport officials.  

McCarran International Airport
A lighted sign at McCarran International Airport welcomes visitors to Las Vegas. The airport is outside city limits at the southeastern end of the Strip. (Image: KTNV-TV)

In August, 3.8 million arriving and departing passengers made their way through the airport at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. One month earlier, 4.15 million passengers used the airport, according to the Clark County Department of Aviation. The total in June was the same as in August — 3.8 million.

As the delta variant swept through the region this summer, Clark County’s rising infections and low vaccination rates prompted health officials in Los Angeles and elsewhere to caution against traveling to Las Vegas.

The August 2021 figure is 14.1 percent below August 2019’s total of 4.4 million passengers. The airport uses 2019 numbers to indicate how well tourism-dependent Las Vegas is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of passengers using the airport during the first eight months of this year is 30.1 percent below the January-August 2019 total. Two years ago, 34.1 million arriving and departing passengers used the airport during that period. This year, the number fell to 23.89 million.

McCarran Airport is just east of the Tropicana, MGM Grand, and other major hotel casinos on the resort corridor. The airport is outside the Las Vegas city limits. It falls under the county’s jurisdiction.

International Travel Plummets

The international travel numbers have been low throughout the pandemic. 

This year, from January through August, only 325,329 passengers arrived at McCarran from international airports. That is a falloff of 87.2 percent from the first eight months of 2019 when the airport saw 2.5 million international passengers.

Last month, 79,275 international visitors made their way through McCarran or 76.4 percent below August 2019’s total of 335,375. Most of the international travelers in August arrived aboard aircraft based in Mexico and Canada.

International travelers, who stay longer and spend more than domestic leisure visitors, are vital in filling up Las Vegas hotel rooms, especially during the slower middle of the week. Several resorts temporarily closed their hotel towers last year because of low consumer demand.

Southern Nevada tourism officials are hopeful international travel will increase with the recent announcement that vaccinated non-citizens will be able to visit the United States, beginning in November. These travelers will be required to receive a negative COVID-19 result within three days of departure.     

Second Airport Planned

A plan is underway in the Las Vegas area to build a secondary airport. This airport would be near Interstate 15 in Clark County’s Ivanpah Valley, between Jean and Primm. The site is about 23 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip.

The secondary airport is expected to handle charter, long-haul domestic, and international flights, the Department of Aviation website states.

No date has been set for when the secondary airport might open. Earlier estimates indicate it could be operational by 2040.

The county’s Department of Aviation recently conducted two virtual meetings to gather ideas from the public for ground transportation options to the proposed secondary airport.