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Airlines’ commitment to providing more flights to new places helped Northwest Arkansas National Airport start rebuilding its passenger numbers in 2021 despite the continuing impacts of COVID-19.

Statistics made public by the airport late Tuesday show 621,942 passengers boarded flights at XNA last year.

It was a 72% increase over how much travel occurred from XNA in 2020, but that year saw 10 of its months deeply impacted by COVID-19. The low point came in April 2020 when just over 3,000 people flew from the airport.

While all of 2021 was affected by the pandemic, such factors as new COVID-19 vaccines, high-quality air filters on planes and passengers being required to wear masks on planes and in airports made it possible to travel safely.

The number of people who flew from XNA was far below XNA’s best year. In 2019, the airport saw 922,000 passengers.

Low-Cost Carriers Add

Working in XNA’s favor last year was the expansion of low-cost carriers. Allegiant added five new destinations last year, and Frontier added twice-a-week flights from XNA to Orlando and Las Vegas. The most notable improvement was Breeze Airways, a new airline that in the summer started offering nonstop flights from XNA to New Orleans, San Antonio and Tampa.

Led by Allegiant, the three low-cost carriers grabbed about 18% of passengers last year. It was the highest percentage of travelers boarding those airlines’ flights. In 2019, XNA’s busiest year, low-cost carriers transported 8% of XNA’s travelers.

American Airlines remained XNA’s busiest carrier, and that’s been the case since the airport’s opening 24 years ago. In 2021, American provided flights to 49% of XNA travelers. United Airlines was a distant second at 17%.

In Line with Other Airports

From an overall perspective, the 72% increase in travel from XNA over 2020 was in line with what happened at airports in Tulsa, Springfield and Little Rock.

Little Rock saw 850,422 people board flights, a 73% improvement.

In Oklahoma, Tulsa International Airport saw 606,179 people board flights in the year’s first 11 months. It was 73% better than 2020.

Through 11 months, Springfield-Branson National Airport in Missouri was on pace for a 60% gain over 2020. While it hasn’t published its December stats, it looks like it will end the year just short of 500,000 passengers.