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Officials at Northwest Arkansas National Airport celebrated the start of Breeze Airways service today, applauding the airline for its decision to fly to the fast-growing region.

The first Breeze flight arrived at XNA on Thursday evening, and the 118-seat Embraer headed back to Tampa, carrying more than 80 passengers.

Breeze, an airline started by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, announced on May 23 that it would fly nonstop from XNA to Tampa, New Orleans and San Antonio. Service to the other two cities commences on July 15.

Speakers at today’s ceremony in front of the Breeze ticket counter included Brian Burke, chairman of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority that operates the national airport; Kelly Johnson, the airport’s chief operating officer; and Eric Fletcher, the airline’s director of legal and corporate affairs.

Low-cost Breeze Airways promises to put pressure on the airlines that are carrying most Northwest Arkansas passengers to the three cities. Adding to the fight for Tampa-bound passengers is Allegiant Air, which followed the Breeze Airways announcement with its own plan to fly nonstop from XNA to St. Pete/Clearwater, an airport that’s just 14 miles from Tampa.

In 2019, Northwest Arkansas residents averaged a combined 82 trips a day by plane to Tampa, New Orleans and San Antonio. About half of those travelers relied on American Airlines flights, and all 82 passengers had to make a connection on the way. Breeze today became the first airline to ever offer nonstop service from XNA to Tampa.

To be successful, Breeze will need to capture some of the American, Delta and United passengers who travel to the Tampa, New Orleans and San Antonio, but it’s also counting on its low fares and the availability of the nonstop option to increase how many people fly to the cities. It’s normal for travel to a new city to increase significantly when nonstop service becomes available.

The low fares of Breeze should catch passengers’ attention, too. The Breeze website today shows there are dozens of flights in the coming weeks where it’s possible to make a $100 to $200 roundtrip from XNA to any of the three cities. Roundtrip fares on Breeze are a little less expensive for travel to New Orleans and San Antonio than Tampa.

Pictured at the top: Eric Fletcher of Breeze Airways talked today at XNA about the airline’s start and thanked airport officials and community leaders for the assistance provided as the airline evaluated whether Northwest Arkansas National Airport should be one of its launch airports.