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Northwest Arkansas National Airport passengers saw the cost of flying stay about the same in 2021 as compared to a year earlier, new federal data indicates.

An analysis of data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics by Volaire Aviation Consulting shows the average XNA passenger paid $362 for a domestic roundtrip flight. It was $8 more than 2020.

The small increase came at an airport where passengers are used to far higher fares. For years, XNA fares averaged over $500 before starting a decline in 2019. Fares frustrated Northwest Arkansas’ business and leisure travelers, and it led to high numbers of people driving to airports in Tulsa, Kansas City and other places to find lower prices.

That leakage to other airports decreased in a big way at XNA when fares started to fall in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival in early 2020 decreased air travel and led to lower airfares nationwide as millions of people avoiding travel.

People who have traveled during the pandemic are benefitting from the increased presence of low-cost carriers, creating competition on some of the airport’s leisure routes.

Frontier offered the lowest cost

The Volaire analysis shows which airlines charged XNA passengers the highest average fares, and which ones offered the less expensive options.

Led by Frontier Airlines and its average roundtrip fare of $80 in 2021, the airport’s three low-cost carriers consistently charged less than American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, which are the airport’s three legacy carriers.

While Frontier was the least expensive for the average roundtrip, Allegiant Air ($112) and newcomer Breeze Airways ($138) offered terrific pricing, too.

Delta, which goes to Atlanta, Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York LaGuardia from XNA, was the airport’s most expensive airline with average fare at $450 roundtrip. Additionally, American Airlines ($430) and United Airlines ($392) were far more expensive than Frontier, Allegiant and Breeze most of the time.

Orlando stays No. 1 for second year

The pandemic, a decrease in business travel, and the availability of the low-cost airline’s flights led to a shift in where most XNA passengers go.

In 2019, the No. 1 destinations of XNA’s passengers were New York (181 people a day) followed by Chicago (128), Dallas/Fort Worth (119), Orlando (106) and Los Angeles (105).

In 2020, Orlando took the top spot and it held that spot again last year.

Allegiant, which carries most of XNA’s passengers who are going to Orlando by landing in nearby Sanford, charged the average Orlando-bound traveler just $124 roundtrip last year. The number of people going to Orlando each day (86) on all of XNA’s airlines was down from two years ago.

Other top destinations in 2021 included Denver (70), Dallas/Fort Worth (70) and Los Angeles (69). Travel to all of those top cities was higher last year than 2020 as COVID-19 vaccines become available and people started traveling more.

Other statistics gleaned for the Volaire report on the federal data:

  • Nonstop flights on Allegiant and Breeze to the Tampa/St. Petersburg market become available in 2021, and it led to a big increase in how many people flew there from XNA. It grew from 20 people a day in 2019 to 51 a day last year.
  • Few destinations saw more people going there from XNA when compared to 2019 due to the pandemic, but airports in south Florida were an exception. Travel to Fort Lauderdale, which became a nonstop destination for Allegiant in 2021, and Miami, which is an American destination, grew to 45 people a day.
  • The number of people traveling to San Francisco plunged. With daily nonstop service on United, San Francisco saw 80 people a day arrive from XNA in 2019. That nonstop service ended in 2020, and was a factor in just 26 people a day making the trip to the Bay Area last year.