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Las Vegas’ airline capacity recovery has been best in world

Updated June 16, 2022 - 6:00 am

Harry Reid International Airport has had the best capacity recovery of any airport worldwide from the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a report from a respected global travel data company.

A monthly airline frequency and capacity trend statistics report produced by Official Airline Guide, a Luton, England-based company, says the June seat capacity into the Las Vegas market is up 7 percent from June 2019 to 2.6 million seats.

And, according to a Reid International executive, capacity is going to get even better for Las Vegas over the summer.

“Basically Las Vegas is a strong brand and people know what they get here, they know they can get value here and I think the airlines have recognized that and realized they’re going to point their aircraft where they can fill the seats,” said Chris Jones, chief marketing officer for Reid International.

The change from three years ago was the highest by percentage among the world’s 20 busiest airports, according to OAG, even though Las Vegas capacity wasn’t as strong from May 2022 to June when seat capacity was up just 2.5 percent.

Only two other major airports — Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina and Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India — saw a similar bounce-back, each showing a higher number of seats in June compared with June 2019. Charlotte’s seat capacity was up 3.5 percent to 2.5 million seats, and Gandhi Airport saw its capacity rise 2 percent to 3.4 million seats.

In contrast, the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, was down 16 percent to 4.6 million seats compared with June 2019 and No. 7 Los Angeles International Airport was down 23.5 percent to 3.4 million seats.

Big recent growth in China

The biggest growth from May to June occurred at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in southern China where capacity increased 37.2 percent to 3 million seats. That’s still 17.2 percent below what it was in June 2019.

“With regard to where we rank against other airports, that was a new detail, but with regard to the volume of seats that we’re seeing here, that’s not a surprise at all,” Jones said.

In June, capacity was estimated at 5.4 million seats, the highest ever in airport history, Jones said. (Reid officials count both inbound and outbound seats in their reports.)

Based on reports from airlines with OAG data, the July capacity will be around 5.73 million seats and August, about 5.8 million, he said.

Those figures are inclusive of the cuts that had been announced by airlines within the last couple of weeks, Jones said.

Reid International benefits from being a destination for the four busiest airlines in the world — American, Delta, United and Southwest — but none of them are up to the capacities they had in June 2019.

Asked what’s behind the skyrocketing growth, Jones said it’s all about what Las Vegas is famous for.

“We’ve done a lot to diversify what goes on in the community, between the stadium, the constant push to bring different sporting events or conventions or concerts or all the other things Las Vegas has done year in and year out,” he said.

International comeback

Jones said international capacity has come back strong with routes from Canada, Mexico, Latin America and Europe leading the way. And not only are there more seats available, a growing number of them are being filled with visitors.

“I don’t have the official numbers yet for May, but if you go back in March, flights were 80 percent full, April was 81 percent and May unofficially was around 82 or 83 percent, and that was with huge increases in capacity,” he said.

In January, only about 50 percent of seats were filled coming into the market and Jones said “omicron (variant of COVID-19) had a lot to do with that.”

Arrivals are expected to increase next month when Korean Air returns with three flights a week from Seoul to Las Vegas. In addition, international visitors should become more confident that their trips to the United States won’t be disrupted by COVID-19 since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said having a negative coronavirus test should no longer be required of airline passengers arriving in the United States. The Biden administration agreed and rescinded an order Saturday.

Inflation worries

While capacity has grown stronger for Las Vegas, aviation analyst Mike Boyd of the Evergreen, Colorado-based Boyd Group International warned that higher jet fuel costs will result in higher airline ticket prices and airports and airlines may need to adjust to inflationary pressures.

Boyd said he expects there to be less impulse buying of plane tickets — the kinds of trips Las Vegas likes to market — because “8 percent inflation and $6 gas prices can kill the impulse.”

He also expects downturns in leisure and discretionary travel for vacations and family events, less convention and event travel and less business travel with virtual meetings becoming a favored method when travel prices are high.

“What I think we’re going to find is that there’s a lot more reticence for people who want to fly to a central location, even a great place like Las Vegas, to go to a convention,” Boyd said in his “Aviation Unscripted” podcast. “That’s going to be hit as well. And business travel, I’m sorry, people really want to go out and meet people, that’s true, but how many of us out there have taken fewer trips in the last year or year and a half, and in lieu of that have done video conferencing? That’s going to be a big issue.”

In response, Jones said airline CEOs in quarterly earnings reports have said demand for air travel has continued.

“It (higher inflation and fuel prices) is a valid concern, but we’re still weathering it,” he said.

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

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