The air travel boom of summer took a step back in August as students began returning to classrooms and the summer’s best days faded into the past.
What remains firmly in place at Northwest Arkansas National Airport are the incredible travel deals passengers were able to find all summer. The airlines are offering more low fares to more places from XNA than is typical, and the airlines will be adding new service this fall.
The six airlines serving XNA saw 55,687 passengers board flights in August, the airport reported today. It was more than twice the number of travelers when compared to August 2020, but 24,000 fewer than August 2019 when the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t yet a front-and-center, worldwide tragedy.
The overall August statistics suggest XNA in the past few days probably surpassed its total number of travelers in all of 2020. At the end of August this year, XNA was just 8,000 passengers short of the 360,133 who flew in 2020.
With four months to go, the airport should surpass 500,000 travelers if business travel returns this fall to replace the leisure travel that dominates summer months.
That’s one big “if,” though, as a Bloomberg survey of 45 large companies showed 84% of them expect to spend less on travel in the future. Other surveys of corporate executives and travel managers suggest business travel could be down 10% to 30% even after the pandemic ends.
Because the cost of flying remains affordable, it’s possible XNA’s airlines will get some suppport from vacationers this fall. Low-cost carriers Breeze Airways, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air are selling nonstop roundtrips to cities such as Tampa, San Antonio, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Denver and Austin for $90 or less, and that’s been a consistent theme for weeks.
But the airport is seeing solid pricing from the legacy carriers too. United Airlines and American Airlines are routinely selling nonstop roundtrips to Chicago for $189 these days, and American goes to Dallas/Fort Worth for $173 at times.
Frontier was the only carrier at XNA to see more travelers in August than in July. The airline’s increase of about 400 passengers during the month can be attributed to starting twice-a-week nonstop flights to Las Vegas in the middle of the month. It has previously served only Denver from XNA, and it’ll add a twice-a-week flight to Orlando on Nov. 1.
XNA is starting to see some of its core nonstop routes return, but they weren’t yet available in August. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, for example, have restarted the nonstops to New York LaGuardia in recent days. All New York flights from XNA had been idled due to the pandemic.
XNA’s stats should benefit from new flights being started by the low-cost carriers between now and the end of the year. In addition to Frontier’s flight to Orlando, XNA will see Allegiant Air take off for Phoenix/Mesa (on Oct. 7), Fort Lauderdale (Oct. 8), Punta Gorda (Nov. 17), and Houston Hobby (Nov. 19).