Southwest Airlines Bidding for Reagan National Airport Slot for Las Vegas

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Southwest Airlines is among a crowded field of bidders seeking to gain one of the five coveted, new long-distance terminal slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Washington, DC. If it wins one of the routes, Southwest says it will use it to connect the nation’s capital with Las Vegas.

A plane operated by Southwest Airlines arrives in Washington, D.C., at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Southwest is seeking a slot at the regional airport for direct service to Las Vegas. (Image: Reuters)

President Joe Biden earlier this month signed the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Reauthorization Act of 2024. The federal statute allows DCA to increase the number of long-distance flights from 40 to 45.

Southwest hopes to land one of the handful of new long-distance options at DCA to connect with Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport (LAS).

Southwest has a long history of connecting people across the nation with important moments in their lives through competitive airfares, friendly and flexible policies, and the unmatched hospitality of our people,” Southwest President and CEO Bob Jordan said in a release. “We believe Southwest’s proposed new DCA-LAS nonstop service will lower fares and increase access for the nation’s capital, Las Vegas, and western states.”

Currently, only American Airlines provides direct nonstop service from DCA to LAS.

DCA Restrictions

After Washington’s Dulles International Airport opened in November 1962, Congress moved to make Regan a regional airport. The federal government, seeking to reduce noise and pollution over the nation’s capital caused by larger jets, placed a restriction that limited flights from DCA to no more than 500 miles.

The perimeter has been extended over the decades to its current 1,250-mile limit. There have also been slot exceptions — 40 before Biden’s signing of the 2024 measure last week — that allow airlines to fly further than the cap.

Those exemptions are among the most sought-after slots in the airline industry, as DCA is wildly popular with residents in the capital and surrounding metro region for its convenience. DCA has traditionally come with expensive fares, however, as demand is high.

American gained its DCA perimeter exception it uses for Las Vegas in 2000. The airline faces no competition for direct nonstop service to the casino hub out of DCA. Southwest, as well as Nevada’s Democratic U.S. Sen Jacky Rosen, want to change that reality.

I’m glad to support Southwest’s application to provide nonstop service between DCA and Harry Reid International Airport because bringing more flights to Las Vegas creates more options for visitors to come to our state and helps sustain critical tourism jobs,” said Rosen.

Southwest, the largest facilitator of airline traffic in Southern Nevada with about 34% of LAS’ passengers, additionally has the support of Harry Reid Airport officials.

“Providing this much-needed service between the nation’s capital and the sports and entertainment capital of the world will open up new opportunities for all travelers,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County’s director of aviation.

Daily Service

If Southwest lands one of the DCA slot concessions, which are to be awarded in the coming weeks, the airline says it will fly daily from the national airport to Las Vegas.

Like all other Southwest flights, the service to Las Vegas would be aboard Boeing 737 narrow-body airplanes. Southwest’s current seating configuration allows for 175 passengers per flight.

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