The local airport isn’t a place where most of us would choose to linger. But an airport like ours is more than a collection of gates; it’s part of our economic engine.
So, off I headed June 27 to check out the testament to modern aviation that is McCarran International Airport’s new Terminal 3.
Earlier in the week, I’d listened to Applied Analysis guru Jeremy Aguero enlighten the World Affairs Council of Las Vegas with statistics about the impact of foreign tourists on Las Vegas’ economy. No doubt about it: They spend much more time and money here than do our fellow Americans. And now, they’d be arriving at T3.
My initial encounter with the terminal went smoothly, mostly because I didn’t have to go through the show-stopping routine of removing my belt and shoes to clear the security checkpoint. As I walked out into the bright, new space, I happened upon Betsy Fretwell, Las Vegas’ city manager. She mentioned economic diversification.
“One of the things we need to focus on in this community from a business standpoint is our international presence,” she said.
I continued on my tour and soon encountered Rosemary Vassiliadis, McCarran’s deputy director of aviation.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” she said. “But I’m more proud of the flexibility it offers us as a whole.”
Flexibility may be T3’s greatest asset. The gates are designed for common use, meaning they can be shared by airlines. That reduces the likelihood of annoying arrival delays, when arriving planes and passengers are told they must wait for a gate to become available. Not what you want to hear after a daylong flight from London.
Walking along, I came upon an old friend — a Hudson News store. Hudson has a large presence at McCarran and seems particularly appropriate for an international terminal since it is a subsidiary of the Swiss retailer Dufry AG. Even occasional flyers know that if Hudson doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it.
Joseph DiDomizio, the company’s president and CEO, stood outside the newest store. I mentioned that the retailer seemed to have evolved.
“Needs have changed,” he said, guiding me to a section stocked with accessories for seemingly any electronic ever made.
We studied the display space. “We never would have had 12 feet of this before,” he said.
“If you go back to the ’80s, 35 percent of sales were tobacco and newspapers,” he continued. “Today, those categories represent less than 4 percent. In the ’90s, over 50 percent of the mix was ‘readables.’ Today, it’s about a third. And in the ’90s, newsstands didn’t have beverages. Today, 100 percent of our locations do.”
Because the new store is in an international terminal located in one of the world’s top tourist destinations, souvenirs figure heavily into sales.
“It’s a much bigger concept here,” DiDomizio said. “In vacation destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando, souvenirs are a much bigger percentage of sales.”
The formal program was about to begin, with featured speaker Randy Walker, Clark County’s director of aviation. The Terminal 3 project has been Walker’s baby, and he’s proud of it.
That day was also Walker’s birthday, meaning he and the terminal — appropriately enough — will forever share a starting point.
Walker pointed out that with Terminal 3, McCarran becomes the first airport to offer a city-specific welcome for its international arrivals. Acknowledging the turbulence of the airline industry in recent years, he also touted the “operational flexibility” the new terminal offers.
“One thing we know about this industry is that it always changes,” he said. “So we have to be flexible.”
After his remarks, Walker made time to put the project into practical terms for me.
“I think most people wanted the airport expansion to be something they didn’t have to think about,” he said.
Airports are, in some ways, quite simple, Walker noted. They are essentially just conduits in the travel process, he said.
I asked him to name something that would clearly illustrate the difference between McCarran’s newer and older terminals.
“Electrical outlets,” Walker said. So many more are needed these days.
Had DiDomizio been standing nearby, I’m guessing he’d have nodded in agreement.