Two of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport’s three legacy carriers saw far better summertime traffic this year despite increased and new competition from low-cost carriers.
American Airlines, which remains the regional airport’s dominant carrier, provided flights to nearly 175,000 passengers in May, June, July and August. It carried 23.5 percent more passengers than during the same months in 2018.
United Airlines, which provides nonstop flights from XNA to Denver, Newark, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco and Houston, saw 11.8 percent more passengers during the summer months.
Only Delta Air Lines didn’t see growth during the summer. Its number of passengers was almost identical to the four months in 2018.
Northwest Arkansas travelers have long wanted low-cost service from an airline such as Frontier, Spirit, JetBlue or Southwest, but it wasn’t known how new service would impact the legacy carriers that remain XNA’s air-service backbone. While passengers expected the competition created by newcomer Frontier Airlines would lower airfares and that’s played out exactly as anticipated, there’s always a question about whether the airport would see American, United and Delta reduce their offerings.
It’s been exactly the opposite so far.
American, in fact, continues to expand at XNA. It started once-a-day flights to Philadelphia this month, and it’ll add daily service from XNA to Miami in December.
American also increased the size of some of its planes flying from XNA to Dallas/Fort Worth. Starting this month, 128-seat Airbus A319s are making some of the trips to DFW, replacing 76-seat Embraer ERJ-175s.
United didn’t stand pat, either. The airline in the second quarter of 2019 flew more often to Denver and Houston than it did during the second quarter of 2018.
What the passenger growth of American and United at XNA suggests is that Frontier and low-cost carrier Allegiant Air are attracting new fliers rather than causing XNA passengers to change airlines. That makes sense, too, as the airport’s overall passenger count for the year’s first eight months is up 16.7 percent. XNA is on pace for 920,000 passengers in 2019, meaning it would beat its record year of 2018 by 130,000 passengers.
Many of the new XNA fliers are finding Frontier and Allegiant to their liking.
Frontier started its three-times-a-week flights to Denver in late June, often selling round-trip flights for $50 to $75.
Allegiant Air, once a small player at XNA, is an increasingly important part of what’s happening. The Las Vegas-based airline drew 21,000 passengers in May, June, July and August 2018 and flew almost 34,000 passengers during those same months this year.
The 62 percent growth was made possible by Allegiant’s launch of summertime service from XNA to Nashville and then additional flights to its core destinations of Las Vegas, Orlando and Destin.
While Allegiant’s Nashville flights won’t restart until February, the airline will add flights to Phoenix/Mesa, starting in November.