Virgin Atlantic Airways to connect Las Vegas and London |

Virgin Atlantic Airways to connect Las Vegas and London

TREVOR HAYES, Associated Press Writer

LAS VEGAS – Nevada officials say the British are coming, and they couldn’t be happier.

Virgin Atlantic Airways will begin twice-weekly service between London’s Gatwick International airport and Las Vegas’ McCarran International beginning June 8, 2000.

The announcement Monday by the Transportation Department comes after three years of negotiations between U.S. and British officials that failed to add an additional route between the two countries.

Instead of adding an additional route, Virgin was able to capitalize on a spare gateway to the U.S. created by British Airways’ decision to discontinue its flight between London and Pittsburgh.

The biggest opposition to the new route came from Pennsylvania, according to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

At the Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism last week several tourism officials spoke of Las Vegas’ need to draw more international visitors.

International travelers comprised 13 percent of the 30 million visitors to Las Vegas last year, with more than 254,000, or 8 percent, coming from the United Kingdom.

”Las Vegas is really becoming a world class destination, there is a great deal of interest overseas,” said Richelle Thomson, a spokesperson for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The new route ”makes it a lot easier for those with a curiosity about Las Vegas to get here and see it for themselves.”

The LVCVA had already stepped up its marketing efforts in the United Kingdom in anticipation of Monday’s announcement, Thomson said. Currently, tourists traveling from London must make a prior stop, usually in either Los Angeles or Dallas, to reach Las Vegas.

Members of Nevada’s Congressional delegation have been working on the new route for several years.

Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., said the approval hasn’t been easy but is needed to continue the state’s rapid growth.

”I think this is absolutely on target with the long range strategy of increasing international travel,” said Bryan.

Reid believes this arrangement is perfect for the new upscale Las Vegas because it will bring more affluent tourists.

The new route ”is kind of an extra added attraction to Las Vegas because this airline is for those with a little extra income,” said Reid.

He said Virgin’s luxurious appointments and attention to service attract wealthier travelers.

”We’re absolutely thrilled to be going to Las Vegas,” said Sharon Pomerantz, Virgin Atlantic’s director of industry and public affairs. ”The market from London to Las Vegas has great potential. (Las Vegas) is one of the most popular destinations in the world.”

A 420-seat Boeing 747 will depart Las Vegas on the 10-hour flight on Thursdays and Saturdays.