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More travelers found flights they wanted to take at Northwest Arkansas National Airport and were driving to more distant airports less often to meet their travel needs, a new leakage study shows.

XNA’s study, completed by Volaire Aviation Consulting, shows so-called leakage was reduced to 26.3% in 2019. It means about 74 out of every 100 travelers who lived nearest to XNA chose to fly from the Northwest Arkansas airport last year.

The 26.3% was a significant improvement over two previous years. A 2015 study showed leakage was 38.4%. It improved to 34.1% in 2018.

To reach its conclusions, Volaire examined 36,526 plane tickets purchased by people who live in a 15-county area of southern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas.

What’s not known is why more travelers chose XNA in 2019, but the increased availability of low-cost flights offered by low-cost carriers coupled less expensive nonstop options offered by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are probable causes for the improvement.

XNA saw Frontier Airlines begin offering nonstop flights to Denver in June 2019. In reaction to the new competition, United Airlines offered lower fares in an effort to keep its Denver-bound travelers.

That Denver competition led to this outcome: 44 of 139 people a day who lived closest to XNA and who were flying to Denver departed from Tulsa International Airport in 2019. In the leakage study conducted a year earlier, 80 of 128 people a day chose Tulsa.

Allegiant Air, meanwhile, helped XNA cut leakage with its June 2019 start of nonstop service between XNA and Destin, a city in the Florida Panhandle.

In 2018, XNA didn’t have nonstop service to the panhandle and it captured 61% of the 36 people a day who traveled from XNA to a connecting airport before arriving at one of two Florida Panhandle airports. In 2019 and with the Allegiant nonstop to Destin available, the number of people flying to those same two airports increased to 69 a day. XNA kept 83% of those travelers.

But it wasn’t just the presence of Frontier and Allegiant Air that can be credited for XNA’s decreased leakage. XNA kept higher percentages of its passengers flying to destinations such as New York/Newark (94%), Charlotte (92%), Atlanta (90%), Washington (88%), Dallas/Fort Worth (86%) and San Francisco (85%). In 2019, each of those cities was served by nonstop flights on American, Delta or United.

There are effective ways to look at the true cost of travel from XNA vs. other airports, and one of the best is the FareFlightNWA cost calculator. After entering the cost of flying to a particular city from Tulsa, Kansas City or XNA into the calculator, the tool takes care of other expenses that must be accounted for when comparing travel costs.

There’s a goldmine of other information in the Volaire leakage study about the travelers who fly from the 15-county catchment area near XNA. It includes:

  • Airports in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago metropolitan areas were the top three destinations from the catchment area. In 2019, Chicago replaced Dallas/Fort Worth in the No. 3 position.
  • Cancun, Mexico City and Toronto were the top three international destinations in 2019.
  • London is the top European destination, and it’s the No. 5 international destination. Eleven people a day travel there from the catchment area.
  • Among larger cities in Benton and Washington counties, Bella Vista residents are most likely to choose XNA over other airports. Just 12% of Bella Vista residents flew from other airports in 2019, the study showed.
  • Passengers who do not choose XNA are most likely to favor flying from Tulsa (10.4%). Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (3.8%), Springfield-Branson National Airport (3.7%) and Kansas City International Airport (3.5%) capture most of the rest.