With nonstop flights to 16 destinations, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is vital to the region’s long-term economic success, and the airport is Northwest Arkansas residents’ gateway to the world.

Our region’s companies rely on XNA in a big way as the airport makes it possible for Walmart, Tyson Foods and so many others to operate across the U.S. and all over the globe.

Yet, XNA’s high fares can be staggering. The airport’s impressive number of nonstop destinations is a great benefit created largely by American, Delta and United, but the benefit is dampened by the high fares charged on many of those airlines’ flights. Would you believe the national average cost of a roundtrip ticket over the past five years was $371, but the XNA average was $519? That’s a $148 premium for every flight over the five years!

The most worrisome number isn’t that $148 premium, though. It’s way more concerning when you start pulling a year’s worth of numbers together. Here’s a real doozy: 788,000 people boarded flights at XNA in 2018, and the average roundtrip fare was $187 above the national average. Multiplying the number of passengers by $187 means the leisure travelers and the companies that paid for their employees’ trips spent $147 million more than they would have if XNA had fares equal to the national average.

The 2018 premium was especially bad, but the average fare is almost always more than $120 above the national average, meaning the region’s passengers consistently lose at least $80 million annually.

That’s why the Northwest Arkansas Council continues its work with XNA administrators who are interested in bringing more low-cost air service to the airport.

Low-cost carriers help because they create competition, and legacy carriers American, Delta and United often react by lowering their own fares in a bid to keep passengers.

When the legacy airlines lower their fares because a low-cost carrier arrives to serve a market, it’s commonly referred to as the “Southwest Effect,” but it’s not just Southwest Airlines that provides that benefit.

Southwest, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit or an upstart can rock the boat at XNA by changing lower fares and guess what?

Frontier announced on April 8 that it will begin service from XNA to Denver in late June. We’ll see how things play out in the long term, but the airline’s announcement is already causing other airlines to reduce fares to Denver.

It’s going to be interesting! That’s for sure!

How can you help?

That’s complicated, but there is a way.

Northwest Arkansas wins when XNA has more passengers. You certainly should look for the best possible fares at XNA and do business as often as possible with the airlines that have the lowest fares. By driving to Tulsa, Kansas City or another more distant airport, it harms the region’s ability to bring low-cost service to XNA.

Prior to the Frontier Airlines’ announcement that it would provide service from XNA to Denver, the question for XNA wasn’t IF the regional airport will have daily low-cost air service. The question was WHEN a carrier would arrive to provide low-cost service. Our region needs to work hard to ensure the success of Frontier and any other airline offering low-cost flights from XNA.

Thanks for doing your part! Every trip helps!

We’re doing our part to bring new low-cost service to XNA to create competition and ensure that flights won’t cost as much in the future.