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Burning Man 'Burners' Push Reno Airport to Its Busiest Days of the Year

Sept. 03, 2019
4 min read
Burning Man 'Burners' Push Reno Airport to Its Busiest Days of the Year
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Reno-Tahoe International Airport is doing its part to safely send home many of the 80,000 people who’ve been partying on the playa at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles from Reno.

Between Labor Day and today, about 20,000 of the “Burners” — as festival goers are known — are joining regular holiday travelers and weekday commuters on flights out of Reno (RNO), which will experience its busiest travel days of the year.

Burners arrive from the playa by shuttle bus, car or charter plane tired (from all the partying), covered in gritty desert dust (it gets everywhere) and, due to the festival’s "Leave No Trace" policy, toting everything from bicycles, costumes and bags of garbage that need to be discarded.

A pair of 'Burners' arrives to Reno's airport with their belongings from the playa. (Photo from Reno-Tahoe International Airport)
A pair of 'Burners' arrives to Reno's airport with their belongings from the playa. (Photo from Reno-Tahoe International Airport)

RNO welcomes the departing Burners with giant trash bins, extra cleaning crews and customer service staff. There's also a Burning Man art exhibit and the Paws 4 Passengers team of therapy dogs. The local Kiwanis Club has a special area where the bikes Burners have used to get around the playa can be donated and passed along to local community groups. And airlines have rolls of large plastic bags on hand so every dusty suitcase can be covered.

“It’s a busy time, but we’ve got it down to an art that’s been honed over the years,” said RNO airport spokesman Brian Kulpin. “We get passengers heading to 34 different countries through the airport quickly and efficiently. And we make sure everyone has a good time.”

One of the Burners passing through RNO airport on Monday was Luliia Kuznetsova, who was on her way to San Francisco to catch a flight back to Berlin after attending her second Burning Man festival.

“I have dust everywhere. Inside and out. Everyplace,” she laughed. “I came on the bus in a fur coat and leggings because it was cold this morning on the playa. Now my suitcase is open here on the sidewalk while I put those clothes away and change to the t-shirt and shorts I have on underneath.”

Luliia Kuznetsova, who was on her way to San Francisco to catch a flight back to Berlin, passes through Reno's airport after Burning Man. (Photo from Reno-Tahoe International Airport)

Burning Man is not only RNO’s biggest event of the year, it is the most lucrative. It brings in approximately $11 million from airplane ticket sales, food and other items sold in the airport, transportation and even slot-machine revenue, said RNO’s Brian Kulpin.

“Next year we’ll recalculate that,” said Kulpin, “because we have more charter flights going to the playa from RNO from the private side of the airport.”

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Kulpin says many burners will fly in on a commercial flight, take an Uber or Lyft ride around to the general aviation side of the airport and then take a helicopter or twin-engine propeller plane from the airport to the Burning Man desert landing strip on the playa.

“A couple of thousand people do that,” said Kulpin. “Mostly from the European contingent.”

Reno's airport has trash-disposal boxes for Burning Man attendees returning to civilization from the 'playa.' (Photo from Reno-Tahoe International Airport)
The bike-drop area for Burning Man visitors catching flights home from the Reno airport. (Photo from Reno-Tahoe International Airport)

All photos courtesy of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.