For the second consecutive quarter, leisure travel places in Florida were the top destinations for Northwest Arkansas residents.
That’s quite a departure from the normal flight pattern at Northwest Arkansas National Airport where business travelers’ trips to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta make those big cities into the primary destinations year in and year out. But COVID-19, which started impacting air travel at XNA in March, continues to disrupt just about every air-travel norm.
The new U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data, reviewed by Volaire Aviation Consulting, shows low-cost carriers Allegiant and Frontier are carrying the most people to the top three destinations: Destin and Orlando/Sanford in Florida and Denver. Los Angeles (No. 4), Atlanta (No. 7), Chicago (No. 9) and New York (No. 17) were down the list of XNA’s leading destinations during last year’s third quarter.
In Destin’s case, 46 of the 58 people a day who traveled to the city from XNA relied upon Allegiant air to get them there. The Allegiant travelers paid average fares of $84 roundtrip.
The data demonstrates how leisure travelers’ trips are more important than ever to airports and airlines hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The airlines are flying less often to most airports in the U.S., focusing on the destinations that can provide the most travelers and temporarily setting aside the rest.
Travelers, who airlines serving XNA require to wear face masks and to take other safety precautions, are seeing lower airfares. The average domestic roundtrip cost was just $272. The fare during the third quarter of 2019 was $458.
The airfare averages are based on an origin and destination survey that includes a 10 percent sample of all domestic flights operated by U.S. airlines.
While fares are less costly than they were, few travelers are taking advantage of the pricing as travel remains far less than the norm.
The average day in last year’s third quarter saw 769 people board flights at XNA. It was far more than the second quarter (291 passengers), but light years behind the traffic in the third quarter of 2019 (2,303 passengers).
The third-quarter 2020 statistics show just how limited international travel was from XNA, too. Prior the pandemic, the airport saw more than 200 people a day fly to international places, but it was just 34 people during the third quarter last year.
Among those 34 daily travelers, 30 percent headed to the Mexico beach destination of Cancun. Four other Caribbean and Central American destinations — Los Cabos, Guadalajara, Montego Bay and Puerto Vallarta — rank right behind Cancun.
Within the next few days, XNA is expected to make its annual passenger numbers public, showing just how much the pandemic reduced air travel throughout 2020. The airport at November’s end was on pace to end the year with about 360,000 passengers, far below the 922,000 who boarded flights during a record-breaking 2019.