One of the busiest international airports in the Western United States, McCarran International Airport at Las Vegas (LAS) presents unique challenges and interesting diversions to travelers with pain. The big question is–how do you feel about slot machines? ‘Cause McCarran International has more than 1,300 of the jangling, flashing things inside its terminals.
I’ve flown in and out of McCarran a few times in the last few years. Here’s my take on the facilities and services of LAS.
McCarran International is an immense sprawling tangle, composed of reasonably sized Terminal 2 and immense Terminal 1. Terminal 1 has four concourses and an esplanade. Trams take passengers from concourse to concourse in Terminal 1, as it’s too far to walk (and Concourse D is detached and heck’n’gone from the rest of the airport).
The whole thing is huge–big enough that it can get hellish to walk from gate to gate, ticketing to security to gate, gate to baggage claim, or baggage claim to parking and ground transport.
Driving In, Ride-In and Parking
McCarran is a good longish drive out from the Strip and central Las Vegas. The good news: because it’s out in BF Nowhere, there’s plenty of parking at and around the airport. The bad news: it can be a long, long walk to ticketing and security from both short-term and long-term parking.
Also, because McCarran is so busy, it can be a hassle to get dropped off by taxi at the departure area. At peak times, you may have to wait or to walk–not a great choice for travelers with pain. And it’s a big ol’ hassle to return a rental car and get to your terminal–the rental car return can be confusing to find if you’re unfamiliar with the airport. So allow extra time for hassles if your flight is at a peak travel time.*
I heartily recommend getting a wheelchair when flying into or out of McCarran, if you ever have enough pain or fatigue to require a wheelchair at an airport. Or if you’ve got a temporary acute pain condition, such as a broken leg, sprained ankle, or recent knee or hip surgery. It’s too big, too crowded, and too difficult to navigate to try to go it on foot.
My experience with wheelchair service at LAS has been pretty good. They’ve always gotten me a chair within 10-15 minutes of my requesting it, and chairs have been present when I disembark upon flying in.
Wheelchair service is provided free of charge by calling (702) 261-5475 or dialing 5475 on any white courtesy phone. C Gate passengers should call (702) 261-6376 from outside the airport or 6376 from any white courtesy phone.
Getting Through Security
I’ve found the security at McCarran to be pretty forgettable, which means that it’s actually quite good. It’s a big international airport, which means that lines can be nasty-long at peak periods. But even on air travel review sites, where any fault in an airline gets magnified, the LAS TSA gets surprisingly high marks.
On the Concourses
It’s the concourses that comprise the nitty-gritty of an any airport. At McCarran, the defining characteristic of the concourses is the plethora of slot machines. For me, the endless parade of flashing, ringing, squalling machines has an up side and a down side. The up side–the cushy upholstered stools, often with backs to them, provide reasonably comfortable alternative seating when I’ve got a long wait, or when I need to stop and rest (if I’ve failed to follow my own advice about the wheelchair).
The down side: Slot machines are loud, the lights flash constantly, and they create mobility hazards in the form of crowds. Hardcore slots players tend not to be terribly courteous towards other human beings when they’re in the zone, which means they don’t move, even if a disabled person is trying to get past them. The slots create an anti-relaxing atmosphere throughout McCarran.
To get from concourse to concourse (or terminal to terminal), take the trams. Don’t think you can walk it–LAS is just too big. Also, Concourse D isn’t actually in Terminal 1–it’s way the heck out across the tarmac. Terminal 2 is out in yet another building (in the opposite direction).
Seating around the gates is US-airport standard, as far as I’ve ever experienced. Lots of molded plastic, some minor-league upholstery. With the stools at the slot machines, there’s more seating available on the concourses than usual.
There’s plenty of food on the concourses in Terminal 1. The best dining is in the C concourse–lucky Southwest Airlines passengers catch a break! But you can grab a bite and a cup of coffee easily enough out at the gates of A, B, and D too. Terminal 2 is another story–if you’re not into Pizza Hut, Burger King, hot dogs, or ice cream you’re SOL.
Are kinda dirty most of the time, and the distribution of bathrooms in some of the concourses is just weird. The worst concourse is A, which has only one set of bathrooms for all the gates. Best is C, which has bathrooms ranging all down its length.
McCarren has unisex restrooms for folks who need assistance, but they’re not numerous.
There are “recharge stations” sprinkled conservatively throughout the concourses, but I didn’t see any seating with outlets easily available to plug in electronics.
McCarran has free wi-fi.
Baggage claim at McCarran involves many carousels, like any large international airport. It’s a long, long walk from most of the gates to baggage claim, so after one regrettably painful incident, I stick with wheelchair service from the gate after my flights.
Baggage claim at LAS seems organized enough, and I’ve not heard or read of any major complaints.
Ground transport after a flight into McCarran can be a total zoo. There’s no dedicated public transit system from McCarran into downtown Las Vegas or The Strip, which means visitors have a choice of shuttles, taxis, limos (this is Vegas, after all) or rental cars. Check before you go to see whether your casino, hotel, motel, or timeshare has a free (or pay) airport shuttle. Not all of them do. If you’re coming in on a Friday afternoon or evening, expect to spend at least 15 minutes in the taxi line.
Traffic on The Strip is insane. Expect to get caught in some sort of gawdawful traffic jam that extends your time from LAS to your hotel by at least 15 minutes, no matter what time of day you arrive, no matter what ground transport method you pick. It’s worst if you drive yourself, which I do not recommend for a traveler with pain.
The Bottom Line
I dislike flying into and out of LAS, and find its facilities to be mediocre at best. Here’s hoping that the new terminal they’re opening in 2013 has more bathrooms, better gate seating, better food, and shorter walks.