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Federal statistics show there’s high demand for flights from Northwest Arkansas National Airport to New York, Chicago and a whole group of other cities.

That’s not the case with Charleston.

Even though South Carolina’s largest city saw Tripadvisor rank it as one of the nation’s up-and-coming destinations, data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows fewer than 10 people a day fly from XNA to Charleston.

Breeze Airways isn’t worrying about the stats as it prepares for the start of its new nonstop flight from XNA to Orlando International Airport that transitions into a so-called “BreezeThru” to Charleston. The twice-a-week trip begins Friday, March 3.

BreezeThru provides a unique way for Breeze to test Northwest Arkansas travelers’ zeal for Charleston without offering a nonstop flight to the city. Charleston will be XNA’s first BreezeThru, a not-quite-nonstop product sold by Breeze in select cities nationwide.

How BreezeThru works

People flying from XNA to Charleston on Breeze will make a 35-minute stop at Orlando before going on to Charleston.

The XNA-to-Charleston passengers never get off the plane after landing in Orlando. Instead, they sit tight and wait for a group of Orlando-based travelers to join them before the plane takes off for Charleston. That’s how BreezeThru works.

The wait at Orlando could be described as a layover except that it’s less waiting than a typical layover, and the traveler doesn’t have to deplane and then traipse across the airport to catch another flight.

Tool for testing

At its core, BreezeThru is a testing mechanism. If lots of people make the trip from XNA to Charleston, Breeze can consider the route for future nonstop service. If it underperforms, Breeze can pull back or leave it as a BreezeThru, knowing Northwest Arkansas isn’t ready for a nonstop to Charleston.

BreezeThru is being used in unique ways nationwide. It’s often added to long-distance trips like those from Providence to Los Angeles, Tampa to Las Vegas, and Charleston to San Francisco.

Breeze in May, for example,  starts twice-a-week nonstop flights between Providence and Los Angeles. On the week’s other days, the airline will provide BreezeThru service, making a stop in either Richmond or Norfolk in Virginia. The BreezeThru trip takes longer than a nonstop, but travelers end up with a way to get from Providence to Los Angeles every day on Breeze.

Breeze is doing essentially the same thing between Charleston and San Francisco, putting one of three cities in the middle. The plane stops in Richmond, Louisville or Cincinnati.

Charleston’s popularity

People in Northwest Arkansas haven’t had anything like a BreezeThru in the airport’s nearly 25 years. Traditional nonstop routes between airports remain the only offering until next Friday.

On the XNA-to-Orlando trip, Breeze will compete with Allegiant Air, which has flown to the nearby Orlando-Sanford airport for years.

Allegiant faced a similar battle against Frontier Airlines from XNA to Orlando, and Allegiant won. Frontier used 180-seat planes between XNA and Orlando, and the Breeze plane on the route seats 118. That smaller size should enhance Breeze’s opportunity for success.

It won’t be publicly known for months how many people are using Breeze to get from XNA to Orlando or Charleston as airlines rarely share such information. Federal data for the second quarter of 2023 should provide the answer when it becomes available in October or November.

Charleston should benefit from being something new. People in Northwest Arkansas should find its cool restaurant and bar scene, rich history and  southern charm worthy of checking out.