Northwest Arkansas National Airport was busier last month than it has been at any point since the pandemic started impacting U.S. air travel.
The 34,139 passengers in March were about 12,000 more than February. March almost always leads to a big travel increase at XNA as Northwest Arkansas residents take advantage of spring break to jet off for warm weather destinations. It’s believed the wide availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in Northwest Arkansas is making people increasingly willing to travel, and there continue to be lots of opportunities to schedule the vaccine.
The airport made the passenger statistics public this week.
All five airlines serving XNA — Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier and United — saw big increases in passengers. It was legacy carriers American, Delta and United that experienced the biggest hikes with United leading the way, up a whopping 68% over February. American saw 57% more passengers; Delta was up 51%.
Yet, the airlines and XNA officials long for the good days of 2019 when the airport experienced packed flights and record-breaking travel with more than 922,000 passengers for the year. That travel surge was followed by the pandemic and travel plummeted to 360,000 passengers last year.
The planes in March this year were more full, but there remain empty seats on most departures. The airport’s load factor, which is the percentage of airplane seats filled by a passenger, was 69% last month.
The load factor nationwide was near 58% last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Airline load factors are between 81% and 84% most years.
Frontier, which flies 186-seat Airbus 320s from XNA, carried 133 passengers on its average XNA flight last month.
Allegiant saw 94 passengers on the average flight last month, using 178-seat jets from XNA.
American, Delta and United depart from XNA more often than the other two, and they use smaller planes.
American’s planes averaged 74 seats in March, and passengers filled 57 of them.
Delta’s trips to Atlanta are on 76-seat jets, and the airline averaged 41 passengers per departure.
United, which uses the smallest planes at XNA, filled 41 of 54 seats on a typical flight.