What Happens in Las Vegas Stays in the Vegas Airport

Take advantage of free booze, slot machines, and secret sleep rooms in between flights.

Las Vegas Has the Weirdest Airport in the USA
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist | Getty Images
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist | Getty Images
With a year of unparalleled activity and worldwide attention ahead, Las Vegas is in the midst of a major transformation. This week, all bets are off as we head to the desert to explore this exciting moment and what it means for the future of Sin City. Read more here.

Outside the Las Vegas airport, I watch a young tourist looking at a green mailbox-shaped receptacle near the Terminal 1 entrance. We’re not in customs, but I still ask him if he has anything to declare. “No, I finished off my stash at the hotel,” he says, scurrying off before I get the chance to ask if he was joking.

There are at least 10 so-called amnesty boxes bolted to the concrete at Harry Reid International Airport, installed in 2018 for travelers to dispose of “prescription and recreational drugs” before taking off. A local third-party waste-disposal service checks the containers twice a week and chemically renders any narcotics unusable before sending them to a landfill. It cost Clark County $1,500 to have each box installed—not counting a $75 weekly service fee—to ensure that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Critics have pointed out that the boxes are a bit misleading, given that recreational weed is legal in Nevada. But generally speaking, Vegas is looking out for you—even at the airport. Harry Reid International Airport welcomes more than 50 million passengers a year with roughly 550 inbound flights a day. It’s officially the eighth-busiest airport in the United States, but unofficially the No. 1 airport in the world for cutting the bullshit and celebrating the Wild West spirit of Nevada without too much judgment.

Want a drink first thing in the morning? Grab a margarita from the takeaway counter at the Jose Cuervo Tequileria in Concourse C or canned booze from the Beer, Wine & Cocktails To-Go stand in Concourse B. In fact, if you’re arriving in Las Vegas, Liquor Library is one of the first things you’ll see when the escalators descend into the baggage claim areas. The store is fully stocked with beer, wine, and spirits. Prices aren’t cheap, but it’s known for handing out free samples throughout the day (Wednesday through Saturday in Terminal 1 and Wednesday through Friday in Terminal 3) with schedules posted online. A tourist is definitely doing Vegas right if they’re chugging a free shot of Tito’s between landing and picking up a suitcase.

“Most of [the tourists] are here to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries,” a brand ambassador for locally distilled Vegas Baby vodka explained on a recent Saturday. “So everybody’s already in the mood.”


Drinking, smoking, and post office boxes

The bartender at the Budweiser Lounge in Harry Reid has a joke he likes to tell newcomers like me. “You came at a good time,” he says. “We have a special. If you don’t like it, you still have to pay for it.”

Perhaps because I’m a good sport and laughed at his joke, Andres offers me a shot for half off. I opt instead for an Old Fashioned made in classic airport style with a muddled orange wedge and a maraschino cherry to sweeten (or some might say ruin) my Woodford Reserve. Apart from the comics on staff, the Budweiser Lounge is notable for the fact that it still allows smoking. The only rule is that you have to purchase one item, even if it’s a juice or a snack, in order to light up.

Harry Reid remains one of just six airports in the country that still allows smoking indoors, and after a few minutes of chatter, I learn that my bartender used to work near the C gates at Barney’s Lounge, where he says the smoking is more intense and congested. His wife would tell him that even his underwear smelled of smoke after a shift there, and he took to wearing a mask.

If drinking isn’t one of your vices, Harry Reid boasts more than 1,400 slot machines, which have generated more than a billion dollars in revenue since the first ones popped up in 1968. There were two payouts at the airport slots that exceeded $1 million in 2023 and one already in 2024, on January 14. So becoming a millionaire while waiting for your boarding group to be called is possible.

But you don’t want to roll the dice while dealing with airport security. Vegas is among the growing number of airports with MailSafe Express kiosks near the TSA line, which can be used to ship home a fancy knife or other items from your carry-on that aren’t illegal but don’t pass the scrutiny of an X-ray machine either.


Building a better airport

If you want to know how much LAS airport prioritizes convenience, just look at the location. Harry Reid sits alongside the Strip and is just a short drive to the Convention Center, Sphere, and pretty much anywhere else you care to go in the tourist corridor.

At one time, LAS was considerably small, and even as it’s expanded over the years, you can still spot some of the remnants of its past—if you know where to look.

“If you go into the A and B gates of Terminal 1 and look up, you’ll see the dome that was the original 1963 clam-shaped terminal,” says Daniel Bubb, former pilot, aviation expert, and author of Landing in Las Vegas: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Tourist City. “It was pretty cool to preserve that. And from there, it turned into what it is today, the 8th-busiest airport in the United States and the 15th-busiest in the world.”

The legacy of the airport and the history of Las Vegas aviation are documented at the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum on the second level of Terminal 1. There you’ll find a pitch propeller from a Cessna T-50 Bobcat and a replica of a red 1956 Thunderbird that was a fixture at the airport in the ’50s and ’60s for Alamo Airways, along with many other artifacts detailing the history of air travel in Sin City.

Or just look above the belts at baggage claim and you’ll see an even more imposing piece of history: the Cessna 172 that set a record for the longest continuous plane ride. The aircraft remained in the air for nearly 65 days, refueling by flying low and connecting to a truck that sped along a dry lake bed.


Pumping irony

There are more than 18,000 employees passing through Harry Reid in a day. Yet only a few of them take advantage of ZeroLevel Fitness, named after its location below the first-floor baggage claim in Terminal 1.

It’s a full 13,000-square-foot fitness center with free weights, machines, cardio equipment, kettlebells, and a studio classroom with balance balls and spinning machines. “This place hasn’t changed much in 20 years,” an employee told me while getting in a few sets of his own at the weight rack.

The workout areas feel worn-in but clean and well maintained. Few travelers know the gym even exists, but it’s a great way to stay busy between flight delays or burn off calories from some of that airport food, which includes the only Moe’s Southwest Grill in Nevada and one of only two Quiznos left in Las Vegas.

In another perk, ZeroLevel Fitness has three sleep rooms, which can be booked for a minimum of two hours with access to the gym included. The accommodations are minimally decorated but comfortable enough if you don’t mind the occasional sound of weights banging around on the gym floor. The sleep rooms are strictly for one person at a time, so don’t get any funny ideas.


Looking ahead

Unlike the water levels at Lake Mead, Harry Reid International is on pace to reach capacity in a few years. There’s always the option to build on the site of the demolished Terminal 2, but plans are in motion for a second major commercial airport, south of Vegas in the Ivanpah Valley, which is expected to cost $12 billion, making it the most expensive construction project in Nevada history. By conservative estimates, it would open in 2037.

Regardless, Harry Reid International isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to operate as the airport Las Vegas deserves—a place where you can eat, drink, smoke, and gamble while getting in a good workout, celebrating history, and squeezing in a nap if needed. Just remember to drop off any drugs before you head to the bar.

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Rob Kachelriess is a full-time freelance writer who covers travel, dining, entertainment, and other fun stuff for Thrillist. He’s based in Las Vegas but enjoys exploring destinations throughout the world, especially in the Southwest United States. Otherwise, he’s happy to hang out at home with his wife, Mary, and their family of doggies. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.