Beyond the Sun
The guest of honor was a late arrival to the party at McCarran International Airport’s international terminal Sunday night, but nobody cared.
British Airways’ daily nonstop flights between London and Las Vegas have begun and the first arrival, though a little over an hour late arriving, begins what tourism leaders are calling a great partnership that has been in the making for more than a decade.
British Airways Flight 275 touched down at McCarran at 8:30 p.m. with 217 passengers aboard. The plane passed through a water arch created by airport fire trucks, a traditional welcome for a maiden flight, and passengers were greeted by two showgirls after clearing U.S. Customs.
Among the passengers on the first flight were Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who passed out lucky poker chips bearing his image while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and British Airways CEO Willie Walsh, who was making his first trip to Las Vegas.
Walsh, who became the airline’s top executive in October 2005, celebrated his birthday Sunday – possibly the longest one of his life, since he flew through eight time zones and experienced a 32-hour day.
Walsh is expected to announce today an aggressively discounted introductory fare from Las Vegas to London at a lunch with local businesspeople.
The airline will offer a $276 round-trip economy fare for flights between Nov. 2 and Dec. 20 and from Dec. 24 through March 28. The airline also will offer deeply discounted one-stop trips from Las Vegas to Paris, Milan, Rome, Madrid and Athens for $358 round trip. Tickets must be purchased by Thursday midnight and don’t include taxes and fees.
Goodman, who chairs the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors, was returning from a marketing mission with LVCVA president and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and two other LVCVA executives.
“This is a great day for Las Vegas and a great day for London,” Goodman said in brief remarks at the airport.
The airline also was welcomed by Randall Walker, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, who noted that British Airways’ flights on twin-engine Boeing 777 jets are the first regularly scheduled overseas flights that are starting as daily operations.
Other overseas flights have been kicked off with one, two or three flights a week. There are 170 nonstop international flights a week to Las Vegas. The United Kingdom is the top source of overseas travelers to Las Vegas with nearly 400,000 visitors in 2008.
British Airways is competing with Virgin Atlantic Airways, which has been flying daily nonstop flights from London to Las Vegas since 2006. But British Airways has the advantage of offering its service from London’s Heathrow International Airport, which is closer to central London than Gatwick International, from which Virgin flies to Las Vegas. Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport for international travel.
British Airways also has dozens of connecting flights to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, meaning Las Vegas will be a one-stop plane trip from most of the world’s major cities. Although Virgin Atlantic connects with some of the same routes with code-share partners, its network isn’t nearly as extensive as British Airways.
British Airways’ Las Vegas flights are scheduled to arrive at McCarran at 7:25 p.m. after leaving Heathrow at 3:35 p.m. The aircraft has three compartments carrying 272 passengers. Routinely, British Airways’ London-Las Vegas flights will have 36 Club World (business class) seats, 24 World Traveler Plus (premium economy) seats and 212 World Traveler (economy) seats.
The return trip from Las Vegas, Flight 274, leaves McCarran daily at 9:20 p.m., arriving at 2:05 p.m. the next day London time.
British Airways spokesman John Lampl said the first flight used a special aircraft with four classes of service with 14 first-class seats, 48 Club World seats, 40 World Traveler Plus seats and 124 World Traveler seats.
The Club World section has seats that recline to flat beds and an on-demand entertainment system while the World Traveler Plus section has 38-inch-pitch seats and in-seat power for personal computers, and CD and DVD players.
Las Vegan Marty Paz, one of the first passengers off Sunday’s inaugural flight, said he liked the television screens on the British Airways plane more than the ones on Virgin’s aircraft.
He said the flight, which normally takes 10 hours and 50 minutes westbound but nine hours and 45 minutes eastbound, was a great experience with excellent service and that passengers “drank all the liquor onboard.”
The inaugural flight’s departure was delayed by more than an hour by what was described as a minor hydraulics problem that was quickly resolved. The plane made up some of the time in the air, arriving just over an hour late.