If you’re heading to Vegas soon, allow extra time for delays…lots of them…
UPDATE June 11, 2016: See bottom of article for information on additional construction at Terminal 1 affecting ticketing, baggage check and curbside service at Southwest Airlines.
A recent viral video by an angered traveler at Chicago’s Midway Airport brought national attention to the escalating wait times at TSA checkpoints. While the Transportation Security Administration stepped up and supposedly addressed the situation directly, security checkpoints are just one obstacle that summertime travelers face. The myriad of problems isn’t limited to certain cities, and Las Vegas is no exception.
It wasn’t that long ago that the hottest months of the year were the slow period for Sin City. As temperatures rose, hotel occupancy rates plummeted, driving prices downward (a boon for the price-conscious traveler). Many hotels closed off floors or entire towers to keep cooling expenses down, and that helped them to manage the drop in tourism.
That was then, and this is now. Perhaps the popularity of day clubs, beach clubs and outdoor fairs and concerts have boosted the summer trade. Maybe it’s the younger crowds that now flock to the city, a demographic that’s less bothered by heat…and more attracted to body-flaunting outdoor activities. Who knows?
Whatever the reason for the spike in summertime visits, you can be pro-active on traveling problems on multiple fronts. How? To start, prepare for flight delays of all varieties. Mechanical difficulties, extreme weather, unusual passenger-related events and much, much more. They all seem to rear their ugly heads with the heat, so it helps to expect the unexpected and enjoy the glide if none of these obstacles get in your way.
Let’s begin on Vegas specifics, though. If you happen to arrive at McCarran Airport via Terminal 1, be aware that the baggage claim area is currently undergoing a major flooring do-over. The old grey carpeting is being replaced by glossy, colorful surfaces, necessitating the closure of several baggage carousels in the immediate areas where work is being done.
Consequently, escalators and elevators are shut down to prevent entry into those work zones from the gates. This means that foot traffic is being diverted to other entrances, requiring lengthier walks from your gate to your bags. You may also need to use alternate exits to access ground transportation.
It’s not clear how long this project will continue, but it appears to be in the end stages.
Once you get on your way, the best tools for summertime Vegas visits are 1) flexibility and 2) allowing for extra time….lots of it! The flexibility aspect comes into play by keeping your schedule loose. A tightly-planned day can turn from fun to sour when delays cause tempers to flare. Nobody wants their memories of Donny and Marie to be tainted because “somebody fell asleep at the pool and caused us to miss the opening medley”.
Unfortunately, the beach-club season has also bumped heads with construction season. You know the joke: “There are only two seasons in _______ (insert any city name), winter and road construction season.” You’d think that the scorching heat would keep Vegas road crews at bay, but that’s far from the case.
Right now, major arteries throughout the city are clogged with traffic cones, lane reductions, detours, and restrictions. Having just arrived in Vegas within the past hour, I encountered those very obstacles on Flamingo Blvd., Koval Lane, Tropicana Blvd. and Swenson St. (which I unwisely chose in an attempt to skirt the others).
And that was after a lengthier-than-normal shuttle ride from McCarran International Airport to the central rental car facility. The normal route between the two is also under major construction, causing all buses to be diverted to the highways. Overhead announcements urge passengers to allow for extra time when returning their vehicles, as the trip back to the airport will also be delayed. Here is their official statement:
ADVISORY: Shuttle bus service between McCarran International Airport and the McCarran Rent-A-Car Center has been affected by a sizable roadwork improvement project that is occurring south of the Airport Connector Tunnel. Lane closures and other construction-related limits to traffic flow routinely delay shuttle bus movement, particularly during evening hours. We advise rental car customers to allow extra time for their commute when returning to the airport after they’ve dropped off a rental vehicle. Likewise, please know that pick-up schedules at McCarran may be affected due to buses moving through the construction area. We appreciate your patience and understanding during this work period.
For those who use Interstate 15 to get around town, be aware of another major construction project in the area between Sahara Boulevard and the “Spaghetti Bowl” near Downtown. Known as Project Neon, this massive undertaking will involve a minimum of three years, at least $900 million…and an uncountable number of headaches.
What can you do to avoid some of those migraines? Well, last year I penned an article for the now-defunct Vegas.Buzz blog which offered alternative routes and suggestions for speedier travel times. You can still access it by clicking here. Lots of maps and little-known roads to zip you from point A to point B.
For up-to-date construction news in and around the city, you may want to save this handy little site to your smartphone. It refreshes every two minutes, giving you an edge before you sit behind the wheel.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that construction delays only affect rental car users. Taxis, Lyft/Uber, and the bus lines all share the same road. So unless you’ve got a personal helicopter or plan to stick to activities along the LV Monorail line, you’ll be in the same boat…er, car.
These delays can be softened with a little common sense…and a great deal of foresight. You already know of the long lines at hotel check-in, taxis, buffets and show seating. Expect them, deal with them, and focus on the positives. And now that you’re aware of the potential for summer-specific delays, you can stare them straight in the eye.
Vegas is all about fun and escaping everyday aggravations. Don’t allow inevitable snags to work their way in and spoil your great time. Be prepared..and with any luck, you’ll be able to zip through the airport and straight to the action.
Enjoy your summertime visit…and we’ll see you at the pool.
[Photos: Sammasseur, Project Neon]
Update: I just encountered major renovations at the Southwest Airlines departure counter inside Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport. Substantial areas are closed off by construction walls, requiring passengers to enter the building to obtain boarding passes and check bags, exit the building, then re-enter a few doors down to continue to security checkpoints.
Several curbside service points in the construction zone have been closed off during this process. As I am a Southwest passenger currently updating this piece from the gate while waiting to board, I’m unable to say if other airlines are affected. But if you are a Southwest passenger, I recommend planning for this additional obstacle when returning to the airport for your trip home.