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Airlines scramble to fill National’s slots

Nov 12, 2002 7:14 AM

   What, us worry? National Airlines’ grounding means slightly fewer flights and slightly higher fares in the short term, but little more than a hiccup in the long run, analysts say.

   “Several airlines anticipated National’s termination of service and have already adjusted their routes accordingly,’’ said Bear Stearns gaming expert Jason Ader.

   America West, for example, boosted its daily seats in and out of Las Vegas by 13 percent this year. “Much of this increase likely came at the expense of National as many travelers were reluctant to fly or make reservations with the bankrupt carrier,’’ Adder added.

   Now more airlines are revving their jets.

   JetBlue, which offers three daily flights between Las Vegas and its headquarters in Long Beach, moved up the launch of its Las Vegas-New York JFK run. Nonstop service, starting at $99 one-way, will begin Friday. The carrier hopes to have four Vegas-JFK flights by March.

   Another discount carrier, American Trans Air plans to offer nonstop service from St. Petersburg-Clearwater starting next spring.

   While JetBlue and ATA offer cut-rate tickets — JetBlue’s Vegas-Long Beach tickets run as little as $19 each way with 14-day advance purchase — other carriers are charging premium prices . . . for now.

   A $99 National ticket to San Francisco now goes for $144 (or more) on America West, United and American. Likewise, a $138 National seat to Chicago is running around $198.

   Analysts say short-term supply-and-demand pressures will ease as competing carriers start filling in National’s slots. And with National having operated 35 daily flights in and out of Las Vegas, there are plenty of slots to fill.

   Still, industry observers note that the ill-fated Las Vegas carrier accounted for only 3 to 4 percent of the total traffic into the city.

   “Recent interest from other low-cost carriers could result in the absorption of National’s current slots by early 2003,’’ Ader predicted.

   The list is led by JetBlue, which expands Vegas service this week with service into Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Burlington, Vt. Introductory fares on those flights start at $119 with 14-day advance purchase.

   Other prospects include America West, which ranks second in this market behind Southwest with 15.9 percent of the passengers, and ATA.

   “We believe that the loss of National Airlines should not cause any long-term disruptions to air travel to Las Vegas,’’ Ader concluded.