The busiest commercial airline at McCarran International Airport is spreading its wings and by April will have seven new cities on its route map, including its first in the Caribbean.
Southwest Airlines, which operates an average of 212 flights a day from Las Vegas to 54 destinations, finished acquiring AirTran this year and began the lengthy process of assimilating that airline’s network.
During the first three quarters of 2012, Southwest flew 12 million passengers to and from Las Vegas; AirTran flew an additional 314,000.
Southwest steadily has grown capacity to and from McCarran during the past year by increasing the number of seats on its planes while reducing the number of flights to the market. In October 2011, Southwest offered 1,497 flights a week; now, it offers 1,483. It flies 212,185 seats into the market each week, compared with 204,094 a year ago.
Southwest is able to increase capacity with fewer flights because it is retrofitting its cabins with new seats that enable the company to add another row to each plane. The company also is replacing some of its older jets with larger Boeing 737-800s, which have 175 seats instead of the 143 that are on the retrofitted planes.
Southwest indicated it plans to use the larger jets on long-haul routes through Las Vegas.
This month, the company began flying to Key West, Fla., its eighth destination in the Sunshine State. On March 9, it will end AirTran service to Branson, Mo., and serve the city with Southwest flights instead. The same process will occur in April in Charlotte, N.C.; Flint, Mich.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Portland, Maine. On April 14, Southwest will start flying to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The initial schedules for the new cities are relatively light. Southwest flies only nonstop between Key West and Orlando, Tampa and New Orleans. Portland service will link only to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
None of the new destinations will have nonstop flights to and from Las Vegas, but as the markets develop, they may be in store.
There’s not a lot of competition on those routes. Of the seven cities, only Charlotte has nonstop flights to and from Las Vegas, with US Airways. Charlotte is one of its hub airports.
More AirTran destinations eventually will convert to Southwest as well, including several international routes. Domestic additions will include Des Moines, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Pensacola, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; and Wichita, Kan. Internationally, the airline will add Aruba; Bermuda; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Nassau, Bahamas; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Mexico City, Cancun and San Jose Cabo, Mexico.
Southwest also recently announced that it will bring back seasonal nonstop service between Las Vegas and Cleveland.