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Low-cost carriers will play an increasingly important role at Northwest Arkansas National Airport as leisure travel becomes more prominent, the airport’s top executive said today.

Aaron Burkes, the airport’s CEO, made the comments at an airport operations committee meeting. He noted how Allegiant Air, Breeze Airways and Frontier Airlines accounted for at least 20% of the airport’s travelers in the last seven months in 2021. The percentage in January exceeded 20%, too.

Some of that percentage increase is related to troubles being experienced by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines as they’ve struggled to maintain their usual flying schedules. Their schedules are being impacted by a nationwide pilot shortage, and COVID-19 illnesses have presented all airlines with operational challenges.

In short, the percent of low-cost travel is certainly up at XNA, but some of that can be attributed to decreases at the other airlines.

Burkes believes the three low-cost carriers can consistently account for about 25% of the airport’s passengers in the future.

XNA, which opened in 1998, didn’t have a low-cost carrier until Allegiant started making twice-a-week trips to Los Angeles in 2009. Allegiant soon added flights to Las Vegas and Orlando, but the airline accounted for just 4% of XNA’s passengers that year.

That airline’s portion of travel increased as it added XNA flights to Phoenix/Mesa, Destin and eventually other cities.

Frontier’s arrival and nonstop flights to Denver started in mid-2019, and it did lead to lower fares to the Mile High City. Not only did Frontier routinely sell flights for less than $200 roundtrip, Denver-bound flights sold by United were significantly less expensive on days when Frontier offered the trip.

Breeze Airways arrived in the middle of last year, selling its flights to three cities: New Orleans, San Antonio and Tampa. It’ll introduce the Airbus A220 on its Tampa flights in May, providing passengers with the opportunity to purchase one of the plane’s 36 first-class seats.

Both Frontier and Allegiant have expanded their operations at XNA since Breeze arrived. Those added flights include nonstops by Allegiant to airports in Fort Lauderdale, Houston Hobby and St. Petersburg/Clearwater. Frontier started trips to Las Vegas in August and Orlando in November.

Burkes today suggested the expansions of the low-cost carriers at XNA should put the airport more in line with what’s happening at peer airports where leisure travel accounts for about two-thirds of passengersl. XNA has long been recognized as a place dominated by business travelers, but the low-cost carriers should help as XNA looks to boost its leisure trips and preserve the routes that are important for business reasons.