Year 2021 looked at its start to be a time of recovery at Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
COVID-19 crushed air travel throughout much of 2020, but the wide availability of vaccines this year had people at XNA and every other airport thinking the amount of travel could return to normal within three or four years.
XNA, in fact, had gone from a record-breaking 922,000 outboard passengers in 2019 all the way down to 360,000 last year.
Anything over 450,000 passengers would have been a nice improvement, but XNA will end this year in a much better place. It’ll easily top 600,000 passengers and stay north of 30 flights a day. That’s solid considering the circumstances.
The people on Twitter and Facebook told us a few days ago how they view 2021 at XNA, and their views weren’t a whole lot different than our own. Here’s our take on Northwest Arkansas National Airport’s Top 5 successes this year. We’ll start with No. 5 and work our way to the top.
No. 5: Rolling the dice at Frontier
Frontier Airlines has significant operations in Las Vegas and Orlando, but Allegiant Air has served those markets from XNA for 12 years. Allegiant, in fact, carries two-thirds of all XNA travelers who travel to those cities.
That’s why it was so bold for Frontier to start flying twice a week to Las Vegas in August. In November, it started flying twice a week to Orlando International Airport.
Denver was Frontier’s first destination when it arrived at XNA in 2019, and it’s good to see the airline show confidence in the future of Northwest Arkansas by expanding to the other cities.
No. 4: Route recovery
As the COVID-19 vaccine became more available, the legacy carriers gradually restarted many of the routes they paused because of the pandemic.
Nonstop flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York and Los Angeles are back.
Seeing those nonstop routes return at a time when air travel remains far below previous levels is a testament to the future of business travel. Decisions like bringing these particular routes back suggest the airlines expect business travel to return in a big way.
To be clear, the airlines aren’t flying as much as they did. American’s 16 flights a day this month compare to 22 in December 2019. Delta does about five; it used to be seven. United is up to eight, but had 12 in December 2019.
No. 3: Five from Allegiant
Allegiant’s start at XNA was in 2009, flying first to Los Angeles and then starting Las Vegas service a month later.
It’s added destinations since that time, but never five cities in a single year.
Allegiant loves the Sunshine State. It added Florida flights to Punta Gorda, St. Pete/Clearwater and Fort Lauderdale this year to go along with its other two new routes in 2021 (Austin and Houston Hobby).
No. 2: Ten more!
Year 2019 was a good one for Northwest Arkansas air travel as XNA added flights to five new places. For an airport XNA’s size, having new service to five places in a single year is amazing.
Whatever tops “amazing” is what 2021 has been at XNA. Low-cost carriers added 10 routes, creating new competition for passengers who want to fly to Houston, Tampa, Orlando and Las Vegas.
Those low-cost airlines are providing flights to new cities, selling seats that cause legacy carriers to charge less in some cases. Just by their presence at XNA, they are saving the region’s travelers millions of dollars every year. Frontier certainly impacted the cost of travel to Denver with start in 2019 (United reduced the cost of its Denver fares), so it was good to see other air travel markets become competitive.
No. 1: Breeze lands at XNA
Frontier topped the 2019 list we made with its three-times-a-week flights to Denver. A new airline at XNA was and is a huge deal.
So, with newcomer Breeze Airways serving XNA and flying to three cities, was anything other than the No. 1 spot even an option? Probably not.
Breeze started flying nonstop to Tampa in June, and it added flights to New Orleans and San Antonio in July. It now amounts to eight flights each week.
The other thing that works for Northwest Arkansas travelers is the quality of Breeze, and that makes sense because Breeze was started by JetBlue’s founder (David Neeleman).
Yes, there have been hiccups for Breeze, and that’s prone to occur with any new airline. A Twitter search shows travelers like Breeze – a lot.
That’s pretty remarkable considering how vicious tweets can be about people and companies. Breeze is getting mostly good reviews. People like the flight crews, the quality of the service and the low fares.
If 2022 ends up just half as good as 2021 in terms of new air service, XNA will have had two amazing years in a row.