For about one week last year, Madison travelers heading to Las Vegas could choose between non-stop flights from two airlines. After this weekend, they won't have any non-stop choices.
Northwest Airlines' last non-stop flights between Las Vegas and the Dane County Regional Airport will be Saturday, just shy of one year after Allegiant Airlines abandoned its non-stop Madison-Las Vegas service.
Allegiant, which pioneered direct flights to Las Vegas from Madison in 2004, gave up almost immediately after Northwest started its own direct service to Las Vegas last Oct. 30.
But Northwest spokesman Dean Breest denied that Northwest's only goal had been to drive Allegiant out of Madison.
"It hasn't met our financial expectations," Breest said of the direct Madison-Las Vegas service. "It's a combination of factors. It's fairly complex. Between when we started and now, fuel has soared (in price). And the total number of passengers and yield on the market has not met our expectations."
Airport spokeswoman Sharyn Wisniewski noted that Las Vegas is a very competitive market with relatively inexpensive tickets compared to many other markets.
Northwest, which is in bankruptcy, also is ending direct service to Las Vegas from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Fargo, N.D.
Wisniewski said Las Vegas remains the No. 1 destination for Madison travelers, but that the number of people heading to Las Vegas from Madison was down 11.1 percent in the second quarter of this year compared to the second quarter of 2005. Third quarter statistics are not yet available, she said.
Part of that decline could stem from the fact that Northwest cut its non-stop service to Las Vegas from four to two days a week on June 8.
Wisniewski said the importance of non-stop flights in building traffic could be seen in the 13 percent increase in passengers flying to Reagan National in Washington, D.C., moving it to the No. 2 destination out of Madison, ahead of San Francisco and La Guardia in New York. Northwest added the service to Reagan National from Madison at the time it halved its direct service to Las Vegas.
Ironically, Allegiant also likely is responsible for some of the drain of Madison to Las Vegas passengers with the direct service from Rockford, Ill., to Las Vegas it started when it pulled out of Madison.
"We do see quite a bit of traffic from Madison," said Allegiant spokeswoman Tyri Squires.
She added that Allegiant has no plans in the near future to return to Madison, "but I wouldn't say never."
Asked whether she thought Northwest had only tried to push Allegiant out of Madison, Squires said, "The airline industry is a tough one. It's a business with small margins and some pretty aggressive tactics are taken some time. Unfortunately, what happens is the customer loses out. We were very sad to leave Madison."
Wisniewski said the airport always is seeking more direct service from Madison.
"We regret any time we lose a non-stop flight," she said. "We wish we had a non-stop Vegas flight. If an airline wants to approach us, we'll be happy to talk to them."
Madison passengers can travel to Las Vegas through several hub airports.