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Northwest Arkansas National Airport didn’t have many big air-service wins in 2023, but it scored a ton of small victories that bode well for travelers going forward.

FareFlightNWA since December 2019 has ranked each year’s best successes at XNA. That first year was so good that it swelled into a Top 10 list, led by the arrival of Frontier Airlines and its flights to Denver.

The following year was so bad with COVID-19’s impact that there wasn’t a list at all. The airport went from 922,000 passengers in 2019 all the way down to 360,000.

The situation was far better in 2021 with the arrival of new airline Breeze Airways at XNA, offering flights to New Orleans, Tampa and San Antonio.

Last year was solid, too, with an announcement by American Airlines that it would begin daily nonstop flights to Phoenix in February 2023.

There are so many options for this year’s official list, but we’ll stick with a Top 5 just to keep it simple.

No. 5: Better parking

Y’all know parking is a huge sources of revenue at XNA, right? Yep, along with the fees paid by the airlines and the rental car companies.

XNA has made a few parking improvements this year.

They include the installation of 16 more Level 2 car chargers in the airport’s parking deck.

It’s also now possible to reserve a parking spot online (and it’s easy to do), including some new spots on the parking deck that are 50% larger than a normal parking spot. Are you one of those people who worries about door dings? It’s silly that you fret about dings so much, but these great big spots are perfect for you.

To top it off, the airport made it so that the first hour of parking is free in every parking lot.

No. 4: Slim Chickens at XNA

Philip Enterprises of Springdale opened the Einstein Bros. Bagels business at XNA in 2022, and its revenue is apparently way better than chicken feed.

Otherwise, it wouldn’t be planning to open a Slim Chickens location at the airport.

Its plan for a location at XNA was announced in May, and it should be open in January or February 2024 so buffalo wing fans won’t have to wait long.

No. 3: Crystal Bridges to XNA

What do you think about the prospect of the nation’s best American art museum having a location at XNA? The right answer is, “Why not?”

The possibility of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art having a spot at XNA first became public months ago, and it’s likely to be a few more months before it’s accomplished. A late 2024 opening is a good bet.

Few airports in the nation have art galleries, and it makes sense that XNA should highlight what is inarguably the region’s best amenity.

No. 2: Escape Lounge

Northwest Arkansas residents learned late this year that XNA will become the nation’s smallest airport with a branded airport lounge, and it should be pretty cool.

The new spot for Escape Lounges won’t be too far from the airport’s security checkpoint, and it’s accessible to every airline passenger regardless of which airline they are flying. It’s free for people who own certain American Express and Delta Air Lines credit cards, and it’s likely to end up costing $45 for everyone else ($40 for those who book it 24 hours in advance).

The lounge should be open by November 2024.

No. 1: Record passengers

Administrators won’t know how many people boarded the departures from XNA until mid-January when the airlines report their numbers, but it’s already known that 2023 was the airport’s best year. When the number is official, expect it to be near 982,000.

That would beat XNA’s previous best year (2019) by 60,000 passengers.

That record is extra impressive because 2023 had some extra challenges that 2019 didn’t face. The biggest of those challenges is that the airlines didn’t add flights in 2023. In fact, they pulled back a bit.

Yes, American added the Phoenix route and flew more often to Charlotte in 2023, but the airlines flew less often from XNA to Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and Los Angeles.

During some months, the different between 2019 and 2023 was sometimes 50 or 100 seats a day. At other times, it was more than 250 a day.

Because there were fewer seats available, it increased the likelihood that people found the flight that best fit their schedule already full, increasing the likelihood that those passengers flew on different days or chose other airports.

Think about that: Seat availability was significantly less, and yet Northwest Arkansas travelers gave XNA and its airlines a record year. It was pretty amazing considering those circumstances.