Should McCarran airport be renamed for Las Vegas?
VEGAS INC coverage
McCarran International Airport’s $2.4 billion Terminal 3 goes live this week.
Outside of a handful of people who think T3 is a waste of money — and they really don’t know what they’re talking about — the 14-gate addition will be worth the investment as more foreign tourists and their dollars find their way to Southern Nevada.
In the days ahead, hundreds of news stories will be published about McCarran all over the world. And therein lies a problem.
Outside of Nevada and the longtime fans of our city, who knows what and where “McCarran” is?
Unless you’re well traveled, you may not know where Changi airport is. Or Hartsfield-Jackson. Or Schiphol.
All of us locals know what McCarran is, but there likely are millions of others around the world who don’t make the connection between McCarran and Las Vegas.
Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross, a member of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors, pointed that out last week and suggested there needs to be a conversation about changing the name of McCarran International Airport to Las Vegas International Airport.
Yes, I know, the airport is administered by Clark County. And while county commissioners on the LVCVA board joked about renaming it Clark County International Airport (at least I think they were joking), the fact is that Las Vegas is a name known worldwide.
Many who travel internationally probably have shared the same experience I have. When I talk about my hometown with people I just met, they seem to light up when I say I’m from Las Vegas. Sometimes, they even ask which casino I live in.
Ross pointed out that practically everybody knows what Las Vegas is. You don’t even need the “Las.” Most people are perfectly happy calling it Vegas. Or even “Vegas, baby.”
Still, the “Las” is important. Las Vegas is Spanish for “the meadows.”
Besides, LAS is McCarran’s International Air Transport Association location identifier. The initials are printed on your bag tag when you fly home.
Ross acknowledged there could be some issues with renaming the airport.
One would involve the historic sentiment behind the airport’s namesake, Sen. Patrick McCarran.
McCarran, Nevada’s first native-born U.S. senator, is best known for his anticommunist stance with Sen. Joseph McCarthy. McCarran served in the Senate from 1933 to 1954 and had classic run-ins with the late Hank Greenspun, founder of the Las Vegas Sun.
In an odd transposition, Northern Nevada’s dominant airport was named for a Southern Nevada politician, Sen. Howard Cannon, who was a three-term city attorney in Las Vegas, while Southern Nevada’s airport was named for McCarran, the son of a Northern Nevada sheep rancher and a UNR graduate.
In 1994, Reno’s airport shed the Cannon name and officially became known as Reno-Tahoe International Airport. And while the passenger terminal has a bust of Cannon, there’s little else there to remind people of the Nevada senator who served from 1959 to 1983.
McCarran’s name, incidentally, is on a major circular boulevard in Reno.
Would McCarran’s heirs protest the removal of his name from the airport? Would it matter? After all, modern-day society views McCarran’s politics with revulsion, even though he made significant contributions to civil aviation in America in the ’30s and ’40s.
The bigger issue for Las Vegas International Airport would be the expense of undertaking the name change. “McCarran” is literally etched in stone all over the city.
Hundreds of signs would have to be changed. Maps and documents worldwide would need to be edited. Think of all the business cards and letterhead stationery that would have to be modified.
To complete the transition, a new logo would probably have to be designed, and the marketing and ad program needed to get the word out about the name change would be expensive.
But despite all the headaches, Ross is right. It is time to identify the airport with a name the world identifies: Las Vegas. McCarran’s name can be remembered forever on that street in Reno. But our airport should have Las Vegas’ name on it.