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Passengers at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Thursday celebrated as the first Frontier Airlines’ flight took off for Denver.

The low-cost carrier announced on April 8 that it would begin offering flights from XNA to its Denver hub on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, beginning June 27. When the first flight took off, better than 90 percent of the seats were filled.

It was considered a nice start for the airline known for its low fares, and the new service is already making a positive impact on the Northwest Arkansas travel market.

Frontier’s initial impact at XNA is obvious: competitor United Airlines, which also flies nonstop from XNA to Denver, has reduced its roundtrip fares that commonly exceeded $500 to charging less than $200.

Before passengers boarded Thursday’s Frontier flight to Denver, the airline’s Jonathan Nield asked the awaiting passengers to raise their hands if they’d paid less than $300 roundtrip for the Denver trip. Most of the hands stayed up when he asked passengers if they’d paid less than $200 and then less than $150.

Several passengers indicated in conversations that they’d paid less than $100, taking advantage of the $39 introductory fares. A Joplin, Mo., woman said she’d paid just $84 for the roundtrip and she was headed out to visit family. A Rogers couple said they’d paid less than $125 apiece and they wouldn’t have traveled at all this summer if the fares had been higher than $250 per person.

Frontier continues to sell seats on future flights from XNA for fares that are routinely less than $125 roundtrip, and United Airlines is often charging similar fares.

The presence of Frontier is expected to keep fares low for travel to and from Denver, but it will be necessary for Frontier to expand its offerings at the Arkansas airport for its impact to become broader.

Information from other airports suggests even Frontier’s less-than-daily nonstop flight to Denver can dramatically change pricing. In Wichita, the Kansas airport reported fares during the fourth quarter of 2018 were 48 percent less to Denver than they had been in the fourth quarter of 2017. Additionally, there was a 130 percent increase in the number of people traveling to Denver from Wichita, the Wichita airport reported on its website. Frontier’s first flight to Denver took off from Wichita in August 2018.

Pictured at the top: It’s a tradition at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airports and other airports to use fire trucks to shoot water over the top of the plane when an airline’s first flight departs. Frontier’s trip to Denver on Thursday received the water cannon treatment.

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