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August 29, 2014

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Delayed flights on the rise at McCarran

It may be good news only to the shopkeepers and vendors at McCarran International Airport.

Out of 31 major airports in the country, the Las Vegas airport had the second highest percentage of delayed departures in October and the third highest percentage of delayed arrivals, a U.S. Department of Transportation air travel consumer report released this month indicates.

McCarran's year-to-date averages, from January through the end of October, are only slightly better, ranking the airport fifth in the nation for the highest percentage of late departures and eleventh for the highest percentage of late arrivals. About 20 percent, or more than 53,000 flights, have been delayed so far this year at McCarran.

Federal officials count a flight as late if it arrives or leaves 15 minutes after the scheduled time.

In October, about 23 percent, or more than 6,000 incoming and outgoing flights, were delayed, about a 10 percent increase over October 2003, according to data reported by the Las Vegas airport to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

About 17.8 percent of flights were late nationwide in October 2004, a 5 increase compared with the same month last year.

McCarran's public affairs office referred questions about the report to aviation director Randy Walker. Walker said Monday that he had not yet read the report.

Erika Yowell, public relations manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, called the report an "anomaly" because "McCarran has consistently had one of the better records among airports in the country," particularly for customer service.

The authority will be working with the airport on the issue to determine what factors, if any, may be contributing to the delays, Yowell said.

"We don't expect this to have an impact on tourism," Yowell said.

Tucson businesswoman Kathy Grismore, 45, however, said McCarran is one of the more unfriendly airports for frequent fliers like her.

Grismore said her Southwest flights are almost always delayed on departure from Las Vegas, and the smoky, noisy casino-like atmosphere of McCarran aggravates the sometimes hour-long delay to board her flight.

"I hate it," said Grismore, who flies to Las Vegas a few times a month. "I travel for business so it's a real inconvenience, especially if I have to make a connection.

"I'd rather go through (Chicago's) O'Hare."

Waiting near the same baggage claim, Salt Lake City businesswoman Michelle Hancock, 38, had much the same story.

"I come down twice a month and my flight back is late about 80 percent of the time," Hancock said. "I kind of count on it."

Usually, the two passengers said, their planes are late because a previous flight was late making it in to McCarran. Early this fall, Hancock said President Bush's frequent campaign stops in Las Vegas delayed some of her flights.

But other passengers said they never have problems with late flights at McCarran.

"We pick up people twice a year here from San Antonio and their flight has never been late," Paul Slaughter, 70, of southeast Las Vegas, said. "I've never had a late flight ever at this airport and we've lived here eight years."

Slaughter laughed at the idea that weather would ever play a major factor in delays at McCarraan.

"Not here, maybe back east on incoming flights," said Slaughter, who was waiting for his wife's plane to come in. She had been delayed on a flight overnight because of bad weather in Virginia.

McCarran wasn't the only airport in the nation to see an increase in the number of delays this past year. Every major airport except Charlotte, N.C., has seen an increase in the number of delayed arrivals and delayed departures compared with the same time frame in 2003, according to DOT's statistics.

And more specifically, almost every airport in the country saw an increased number of delays on both arriving and departing flights in October, both over September 2004 and October 2003, the statistics showed.

National aviation system delays, air carrier delays, and late arrivals that put the next flight behind schedule are the top three reasons for a flight being late, the national data indicates, but weather plays a significant factor in all those areas.

Security delayed less than 0.05 percent of all flights nationwide, according to the data.

The reasons for McCarran's flight delays are similar, according to the information the airport reported to the Transportation Department.

Southwest Airlines, which accounts for more than one-third of all of McCarran's flights and 46 percent of its flight delays, blamed its tardiness in the desert city on the weather.

October in particular had a couple of really wet Sundays, which slowed both departures and arrivals from Las Vegas, Southwest's spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said.

Of 11,657 flights in October, about 30 percent of Southwest Airlines' departures and 25 percent of arrivals were delayed.

America West, McCarran's second largest carrier, had a tardy record that mirrored that of the airport, with about 20 percent of all flights experiencing delays.

The double-digit increases in flight delays at McCarran may also be due to the double-digit increases McCarran officials have seen in the number of passengers passing through its terminals, according to data provided by the airport. Almost 400,000 more people flew in and out of McCarran this October than the previous year, an increase of about 12.3 percent.

More than 34.7 million people utilized the airport from January to October of this year, an increase of 14.4 percent over the same time period in 2003.

The air travel consumer report is available online at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov.

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