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November 26. 2012 6:54PM

Southwest Airlines to resume seasonal Manchester-Las Vegas flights in June

MANCHESTER - When Southwest Airlines announced this summer that direct flights from Manchester to Las Vegas were being discontinued, Brian O'Neill, deputy director of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, predicted the service would resume in the spring of 2013.

He was right on target, as airport officials announced on Monday that the popular daily, nonstop service would resume in early June and continue at least through early August.

Airport officials are hoping the popularity of the flight and favorable fuel prices will enable them to convince the airline to make MHT direct to LAS a year-round part of their domestic schedule.

"We were always surprised that it went away as it did," he said. "It was such a popular flight. I know there is a lot more to the equation than just the number of people on each plane, but we were really surprised when that nonstop went away, and we are beyond excited that it's coming back. We are going to work hard and hopefully keep it beyond the seasonal service that's been proposed."

The airport made the announcement on Monday, when the flight became available for purchase with the release of the Southwest summer schedule.

It will depart Manchester at 2:35 p.m. and arrive in Las Vegas at 5:05 p.m. PST. The return flight, also nonstop, will leave Las Vegas at 9:40 a.m. and arrive in Manchester at 5:35 p.m. EST.

The "anytime" round-trip fare listed for the flight on Monday was $536, while "business select" was $564.

Southwest has alternated between direct flights to Fort Lauderdale in the winter and Las Vegas in the spring and summer, a pattern it is repeating this year. The direct flights to Fort Lauderdale resumed on Nov. 4 and will continue through the middle of April.

If airport officials can't succeed in getting year-round direct service to both destinations, they'd at least like to close the gap from April to early July, when the Las Vegas flights resume, and from early August to November, when the Fort Lauderdale flights become available.

"We are disappointed that there is a gap between when the Las Vegas service leaves and when the Fort Lauderdale service begins," O'Neill said when the Las Vegas flight was discontinued last summer.

Manchester airport spokesman Tom Malafronte said the airport can make a great case for the Las Vegas flight on the basis of ticket sales. With every direct Las Vegas flight, 95 percent or more of the seats were generally full, he said.

"The reason that Southwest elected to pull the flight was basically due to their system optimization plan, which calls for some of the longer haul flights to be scaled back when fuel prices are high and impacting their bottom line," he said.

With fuel prices going down, at least for now, Malafronte said the airport has a good chance at getting expanded service. "Our hope is that Southwest will reassess and extend seasonal service through the fall, and potentially increase it to the point where it is a permanent, year-round flight, which is obviously what we're shooting for," he said.

Southwest offers the seasonal Fort Lauderdale direct flights because the Florida destination is so popular from November to April. The direct Las Vegas flights were added to the summer schedule because that is the busiest time at the airport.

"June, July and August is our peak travel season," Malafronte said, "so we have more flights and more passenger activity in those three months than at any other time of the year. Southwest wants to put the airplanes here to take advantage of the peak season, gauge how it does in terms of load factors and operating costs, then decide if it makes sense to expand the schedule into the fall."

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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