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January 28, 2002
Las Vegas to get direct flights from Hong Kong
By Richard N. Velotta
LAS VEGAS SUN
Singapore Airlines, giving a boost to the Las Vegas hotel-gambling industry, is planning the first nonstop flights between Hong Kong and Las Vegas beginning in August.
A spokeswoman for the company, which has a U.S. office in Los Angeles, said flights would begin Aug. 2. The company already has begun offering seats for sale on computer systems used by travel agents.
The airline, operated by the SIA Group of Singapore, plans three flights a week originating in Singapore, stopping in Hong Kong, then flying directly to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. The return flight would go directly to Hong Kong and continue to Singapore.
The news is important to the Southern Nevada tourism sector, which includes the hotel, gambling and retail industries. The sector saw a dramatic decline in visitation from Asian customers after the terrorism in September.
Las Vegas Strip casino executives have said this business is starting to recover, but the slowdown has taken a heavy financial toll already, most notably in baccarat play. Win from baccarat -- the chosen game of Asian high-rollers -- fell 28 percent on the Strip in October, then plummeted more than 80 percent in November. In November, the plunge in baccarat play was the cause of nearly all of the state's 7 percent-plus decline in gaming win.
With its proximity to China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and other Southeast Asia nations, Hong Kong is a key international finance and trade center. With a population of more than 7 million, the former British colony was turned over to Chinese control in 1997.
Harry Kassap, manager of air service development at McCarran, said although he has not officially been notified of Singapore's service plans he is enthused with the prospect of the airline beginning service in Las Vegas.
"We have a first-class stable of international carriers in JAL (Japan Airlines), Virgin Atlantic and with Air Canada, Mexicana and Aeromexico, and now with Singapore," Kassap said.
Mike Boyd, an airline analyst with the Boyd Group, Evergreen, Colo., said he was "exceedingly impressed with the announcement" and said the move by Singapore is a good indication that the airline has faith that the Asian economy is poised to rebound.
"They (Singapore) would not announce something like this unless they had a pretty good indication that the Asian economy is going to come back," Boyd said. "It's great for Las Vegas if (the airline) sees a rebound in Asian traffic."
Boyd said Northwest Airlines, Minneapolis, shares the same optimism and plans to bring back some of its routes between Asia and North America.
Kassap said direct service from Hong Kong would give Asian travelers more options to fly nonstop to Las Vegas. Japan Airlines, which suspended its five nonstop flights a week between Tokyo and McCarran in October after a dramatic downturn in traffic following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, plans to resume some Las Vegas flights in March and will return to five a week by June.
Without the nonstop flights, Asian travelers usually take transpacific flights to the U.S. West Coast, then catch a one-hour flight to Las Vegas. International travelers prefer the nonstop options because they can save three hours or more to get to their destination. Immigration and customs inspections at McCarran also are considerably faster than they are in Los Angeles and San Francisco because there are fewer people in line.
Singapore's appearance in Las Vegas would represent the third nonstop overseas flight to Las Vegas, with JAL offering Tokyo service, and Virgin Atlantic Airlines flying directly between London and McCarran. Condor Airlines has had seasonal flights between Frankfurt and Las Vegas, but presently isn't offering the route.
In addition, there are three air carriers offering flights between Las Vegas and three Canadian cities and four airlines with flights between Las Vegas and four locations in Mexico.
According to computerized schedules, Singapore Airline's 15-hour, 7,286-mile Hong Kong flight would leave Las Vegas at 11:55 p.m., arriving at 5:55 a.m. two days after departure. The 13-hour and 45-minute return flight leaves Hong Kong at 8:55 p.m., arriving in Las Vegas at 7:40 p.m. the same day.
The unusual times result from flying over the International Date Line.
Singapore will use a twin-engine Boeing 777 jumbo jet on the route.
The airline already offers direct flights overseas to San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles International Airport, New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark, N.J.
The destinations Singapore Airlines serves overseas reads like an international travelogue. Among the cities on the airline's route: London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Athens, Bangkok, Berlin, Cape Town, Cairo and Beijing. The airline offers connecting flights to several destinations in Asia from its Singapore headquarters.
The company's fleet is comprised of 88 passenger jets and 11 freight-hauling planes.
In late 2001 the airline received several awards, including Best Overall Airline, Best First Class, Best Business Class-International Flights and Best Trans-Pacific Business Class from Business Traveller International. The company also was rated as the Best International Carrier by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine in its Conde Nast Traveler Awards. It was the 13th time in 14 years that the airline won that award.
In August Singapore introduced the SpaceBed, a seat that reclines into a flat bed for long flights.com