MIAMI – McCarran International Airport (LAS), in Paradise, Nevada is the main thoroughfare for air passengers between Downtown Las Vegas and the rest of the world. Anybody flying into Vegas to enjoy all that Sin City has to offer will most probably move through LAS. It is considered one of the nation’s busiest airports, ranking ninth for passenger volume in 2018.

They say that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, and that goes for the city’s main airport as well. When the economy booms, when visitors have money to spend at casinos and other entertainment resorts when things are generally on the up and up – the numbers are also reflected by the number of people that move through LAS in any given month or year.

But when there’s a global pandemic and Las Vegas is forced to close its casinos, the numbers will decline at LAS as well. 

Photo: Mike Russell. Creative Commons de Atribución/Compartir-Igual 3.0 Unported

Vegas Casinos in the Days of COVID

This past year has been a rollercoaster ride for Las Vegas. In March 2020, Governor Steve Sisolak gave an unprecedented order to close nonessential Nevada businesses – including 440 licensed casinos. The state’s dominant industry came to a grinding halt, leaving tens of thousands of workers in economic limbo.

The state-wide casino shut-down was soon reflected by the number of passengers who traveled through LAS.  

The casinos were shuttered for more than two months until the governor cleared them with a reopening plan that came into effect on June 4, 2020.  Within this time period, Nevada’s unemployment rate was among the highest in the nation, with the Las Vegas area notching more than 33%.

The reopening was a careful process, with gambling authorities requiring that companies submit plans that would incorporate COVID-19-specific health and safety measures. Not all casinos reopened at the same time, and many companies announced plans to reopen on a gradual basis.

Tomás Del Coro from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Open Casinos = Busier Airport

As soon as the casinos reopened, customers started flocking again to their favorite gambling city. They didn’t come in droves and the numbers certainly didn’t reflect the situation in comparison to previous year, but it was clear that players wanted to spin the slot machines and sit down to a game of blackjack as soon as they were physically able to.

The number of air travelers grew gradually as well, until October 2020, when passenger traffic reached its highest point since Nevada casinos reopened. 1.98 million passengers went through LAS in October, up from 1.7 million in September and 1.62 million in July (the first full month after the reopening).

What’s interesting to note is that the number of visitors to Las Vegas is increasing, despite the growing number of new online casinos. That’s not to say that players aren’t playing online as well. On the contrary: The latest numbers show a huge increase in the number of players seeking quality online and mobile online casinos in the wake of the pandemic. However, this doesn’t make playing at a brick-and-mortar any less appealing, as the growth in the number of passengers traveling through LAS proves.

Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s Been a Bad Year for McCarran Overall

The pandemic hasn’t been good news for LAS when one looks at the numbers year on year.  When the latest numbers were published at the end of November 2020, it was shown that a total of 20.5 million passengers came through the airport in total that year – a 56.6% decline from 2019’s levels, when 47.2 million passengers went through the airport.

The top five airlines serving the city showed significant declines as well. Delta Air Line’s (DL) Las Vegas route was the most affected, with a 62.9% decline. Not far behind was Southwest with a loss of over 55.5% and American Airlines (AA) with 50.3%.

But if you thought that domestic flights were badly hit, take a look at international numbers. International carriers reported a 78.5% decrease in travel in 2020. In November 2019, nearly 305,300 flights flew in from foreign shores, compared to the dismal 19,600 in November 2020.

Photo: Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19 Continues to Batter McCarran

And it’s still not over for LAS. COVID woes continue to affect the airport, with the latest report showing that it ranks among the top in the US where Transportation Security Administration screeners and employees have been affected by the virus.  Out of the 300 airports screened in the US, LAS ranks number 10.

The airport with the most recorded cases as of last week was Los Angeles International (LAX).

There’s no doubt that our new reality will continue to affect McCarran International for several years at least, and nobody can quite predict when things will go back to normal again.

Featured image: Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons