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Northwest Arkansas National Airport took two big steps in the past week that provide travelers with better options to the west.

The improvements came compliments of American Airlines and Breeze Airways, which both decided to offer nonstop flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor, the Phoenix metropolitan area’s largest airport and an American Airlines hub.

Both airlines will start making the flights in February.

Allegiant Air, which flies to the nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, restarts its seasonal service from XNA on Nov. 17.

FareFlightNWA had suggested in an Oct. 5 blog post that better western connections were needed at XNA.

The connection via three different airlines will be an important one, as it will create a skybridge between the 10th largest metropolitan area’s nearly 5 million residents and Northwest Arkansas, one of the world’s most important business destinations.

Go West, NWA

XNA last year saw 1,245 passengers fly each day to its top 50 destinations, federal data reviewed by an XNA consultant shows.

If you leave out the 5% of those travelers who went to Minneapolis/St. Paul or Houston because they are almost directly north and south of XNA, Northwest Arkansas saw the majority of the 1,245 travelers (56.4%) jet off to destinations that are to the east. The remainder, 485 people a day, flew west.

While the Orlando metropolitan area was XNA’s No. 1 destination overall in 2021, Denver sat atop the western options. Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines carried about 43 of the 70 people a day who flew to the Colorado city.

American Airlines was the top carrier from XNA to the No. 2 and No. 3 western destinations: Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles. American has no nonstop competition on the XNA-DFW route, and only Allegiant competes for the L.A. travelers. In all, American captured 115 of the 138 people a day who flew last year to those cities.

The No. 4 destination going west was Las Vegas, and low-cost carrier Allegiant Air dominated.

While many travelers each day took Frontier and American to get to Sin City last year, Allegiant carried 37 of the 66 people who made the trip on an average day. Allegiant goes there just twice a week, but it often fills up its 177-seat planes.

Increasing Phoenix Travel

Phoenix, which sat at No. 15 last year on the list of the places people from Northwest Arkansas fly most often, was the No. 5 destination for people going west.

Travel to Phoenix started to increase late last year, and the increase may explain why Breeze was willing to add nonstop flights there. It factored into American’s decision to respond to Breeze by adding its own nonstops.

In 2021’s fourth quarter and the first quarter this year, 54 people a day flew to Phoenix from XNA. That’s way more than the 32 people a day who made the trip in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on air travel nationwide.

Despite that growth, 54 passengers a day won’t be enough to meet the needs of all three airlines. While it’s normal for the increased availability of nonstop flights to boost how many people travel to a destination, the growth in passenger will need to be significant. While American can use its Phoenix hub to connect people who are going from XNA to Seattle, Portland and other western cities, Breeze and Allegiant must rely solely on those headed to Arizona.

By February, the airlines on an average day will be landing planes with a combined 141 seats for sale. The number of travelers will need to be far more on Thursdays and Sundays (when Allegiant and American fly to Phoenix) and Fridays and Mondays (when Breeze and American fly to Phoenix). American will be the only nonstop option on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Allure of Arizona

There are strong reasons to make the trip to Phoenix, but people in Arizona should like coming to Northwest Arkansas, too.

Phoenix and its suburbs are recognized for their great outdoor attractions. The area is home of Camelback Mountain, Papago Park,, South Mountain Park and Preserve and spring training baseball. Flights to the city put visitors within a two-hour drive of Sedona and 3.5 hours from Grand Canyon National Park.

Phoenix also has Arizona State University and its 75,000 students in nearby Tempe, and the city is a center for business. Electronic components producer Avnet and mining company Freeport-McMoRan are the largest of five Fortune 500 members in the region.

Phoenix doesn’t have anything close to Northwest Arkansas’ mega-sized Walmart or fellow Fortune 100 member Tyson Foods. Walmart’s annual revenue is 24 times as much as Freeport-McMoRan, the Arizona company with the highest annual revenue. Tyson is almost twice the size of every Arizona company.

In addition to those two business giants as well as J.B. Hunt Transport Services, other likely draws for Arizona travelers include Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the nation’s best mountain bike trails, and discovering how easy it is to access to the region’s lakes, rivers and other outdoor amenities.