Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

On Oct. 31, Norwegian Airlines launched a nonstop route from London to Las Vegas. On Nov. 1, the airline added direct service from Oslo, Norway, the two departures joining the carrier's nonstop flights from Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark, to McCarran International Airport, just a few blocks from the Strip.

Those flights will bring more international passengers to Las Vegas, but the number of international and domestic arrivals at McCarran was already on the rise.

In 2009, foreign-flag carriers delivered just over 2 million people to Las Vegas. That figure was around 3.5 million last year, and 2016 is on pace to be even more. Through September, McCarran has seen 35.6 million total arriving and departing passengers, a 5% bump over last year at this time. International passengers, 2.7 million through September, are up 2% for the year to date, with September up more than 8% year over year.

International passenger totals are expected to continue growing this fall, with flights debuting between McCarran and Mexico, China and South Korea.

Interjet launched daily service between Mexico City and Las Vegas on Nov. 10 aboard Airbus A-320s for a weekly bump of 5,250 seats. On Dec. 2, Hainan Airlines will launch the first direct service to Las Vegas from China: three weekly departures that will fly from Beijing to Sin City aboard Boeing 787 Dreamliners, an addition of 1,629 seats per week. That same month, Korean Air is reportedly adding a fifth weekly flight between Seoul and Las Vegas.

To accommodate those international carriers and entice more to fly straight to Vegas, McCarran has had to make some changes. There are currently seven gates that can accommodate international flights, and according to a statement from the airport, "there are already certain days and hours when all seven gates are in use. For growth and flexibility, we need more international gates."

The airport is currently in the process of filling that need by reconfiguring eight domestic gates in the D wing into seven "swing gates," which can be used for domestic flights as well as the wide-body aircraft often used for international travel.

The renovations will cost an estimated $51 million and include a 995-foot tunnel with moving walkways that will connect international passengers deplaning at the new gates to the existing sterile corridor leading to the airport's customs and Border Patrol area.

The swing gates significantly increase the amount of airport real estate available to international carriers when they open this spring, and based on published airline schedules, McCarran expects to have up to 10 international aircraft gated at the same time.

"In 2015, the international share of Las Vegas' annual visitor pool of 42.3 million stood at 16%," said McCarran spokeswoman Christine Crews. "Our convention and visitors bureau is hopeful that percentage can be increased to 30%, as international travelers typically stay longer and spend more money here than do domestic visitors."

Accommodating more international flights from more international carriers will likely be key to achieving that goal.

"We want to be prepared for more international growth when those opportunities arise," Crews said.


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