Northwest Arkansas National Airport got its first look at statistics from a quarter fully impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they can be summarized in a single word: Weird.
Airfares were 43% less expensive, and the number of travelers decreased 87%. Moreover, the most popular destinations transitioned from the usual New York, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth to Destin, Orlando and Los Angeles. No. 1 Destin, the Florida beach town where Allegiant Air flies, ranked as the airport’s No. 15 last year, demonstrating how leisure travelers in the second quarter dominated XNA travel.
The analysis by Volaire Aviation Consulting of U.S. Department of Transportation data was shared over the weekend with XNA officials.
The information shows XNA’s second quarter of 2020 was unlike any time in the airport’s 22-year history. While COVID-19’s arrival in Northwest Arkansas in mid-March did impact first-quarter data, coronavirus worried XNA officials and the airport’s travelers throughout the second quarter.
The quarter’s average domestic airfare was just $278 roundtrip, 43% less than the same quarter of 2019. American Airlines remained the airport’s busiest airline throughout the quarter, charging its average flier $338 roundtrip, down from $534 in the second quarter last year.
Allegiant, which was XNA’s second-busiest airline, charged its average traveler just $74 roundtrip. The low-cost carrier averaged $128 in the second quarter 2019.
What the statistics show is how much XNA depended on leisure travelers when the airport’s norm is a heavy reliance on the activities of business travelers.
The airport in 2019 had more than 100 people a day fly to six places: New York (181), Chicago (128), Dallas/Fort Worth (120), Orlando (106), Los Angeles (106) and Atlanta (103). Destin, meanwhile, saw 35 travelers a day in the second quarter this year and held the No. 1 spot. It was twice as many travelers as flew to No. 2 Orlando, another vacation hotspot.
Traffic at the airport has improved markedly since that dismal second quarter. The airport averaged 808 passengers a day in August, more than double the 286 a day in the second quarter.
The airport in October has produced some of its best days since the pandemic’s arrival in March, seeing 1,644 people pass through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint last Thursday. Even its lowest day of the month was 583 travelers.
Still, those improving passenger numbers are unlike XNA’s 2019 experience. The airport averaged more than 2,500 travelers a day last year.