The airlines serving Northwest Arkansas National Airport haven’t provided daily flights to a new nonstop destination in over three years.
That changes on Friday when American Airlines jets off for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It’ll have competition from Allegiant Air, which flies twice a week to nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, and Breeze Airways, which starts twice-a-week flights to Sky Harbor on Feb. 17.
American was the last airline to offer a new daily nonstop from XNA. It tried Philadelphia, starting in September 2019, and daily nonstops to Miami first flew in December that year.
Philadelphia is no longer a nonstop. Miami was daily for a time, and then become a Saturday only flight. It’s daily again through March, but Google Flights shows it’s back to Saturday only, starting in April.
Flights to Phoenix appear to make sense for American. It announced its decision to fly there just days after Breeze Airways let it be known in October that it would be going to Phoenix.
While the number of people going there each day is far from overwhelming (44 people a day in the year ending Sept. 30, 2022), that number should increase because there’s a daily nonstop. XNA administrators for years talked with American about adding daily flights to the city.
Data kept by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows Phoenix is XNA passengers’ 15th most common destination, and its almost 5 million people make it the nation’s 10th largest metropolitan area. It an important destination for business and leisure travelers.
Allegiant, American split Phoenix traffic
About half of the 44 people a day who fly to the Phoenix metro rely on Allegiant. They generally found great fares, too, with the average roundtrip costing just $108, the federal data shows.
Just about everyone else flew American Airlines and made a connection at Dallas/Fort Worth on their way. They paid an average fare of $640 roundtrip.
American’s pricing is better than that right now. Google Flights shows a roundtrip in the next three months, if purchased today, sells for $400 to $550. The prices are higher during Super Bowl week, as the game is in Phoenix, and during spring break next month.
Flights are far less expensive on Allegiant and Breeze. They are selling roundtrips to the Phoenix metro for less than $250.
It’s normal for a new nonstop route to lead to more travelers and lower fares. That’s not always the case, though.
Breeze and Allegiant proved passenger growth was possible when they started flying to the Tampa/St. Petersburg metro in 2021. That destination swelled to 80 travelers a day from XNA. About 20 people a day flew to Tampa in 2019 when there wasn’t a nonstop available.
But the American nonstop to Philadelphia didn’t pan out nearly as well. It was canceled after a few months. It’s possible the airline counted on international travelers using Philadelphia to connect for a flight to Europe.
It’s less clear whether flights to Phoenix will play out like Tampa did because Allegiant has already captured a portion of the Phoenix market’s fliers.
It’ll take far more than 44 people a day going to Arizona for Allegiant, American and Breeze to all be successful. After all, the number of seats available for purchase next month on nonstop flights to Phoenix will be 164 (76 American, 54 Allegiant, 34 Breeze) on an average day.
While American can count on some passengers who will use American’s Phoenix hub for connections instead of DFW, Allegiant and Breeze must rely on people truly headed to Phoenix.
It’ll also be necessary for American and Breeze to pick up some Phoenix-based business travelers who want to get to Northwest Arkansas for meetings with Walmart, Tyson Foods and the long list of Walmart suppliers that maintain corporate offices in the region. It’s also possible that the Phoenix residents will like the prospect of mountain biking or discovering the amazing outdoors in the Ozarks.