If Northwest Arkansas National Airport felt way busier than you’d expected it to be for your spring break trip, your senses were working perfectly.
While spring break ramps up passenger traffic nationwide each year, the 2023 version was way beyond normal at XNA as 80,742 people boarded flights last month. The airport made its March statistics available last week.
It was the busiest March in the airport’s almost 25 years. The previous best came in 2019 when 70,463 people board flights.
There are a few reasons why the airport saw record-breaking traffic.
First, passengers filled up a higher percentage of the seats sold by the airlines. The load factor at XNA in March was near 84%; it was about 76% in March 2019.
Second, passengers had more options than in March 2019. Frontier Airlines and Breeze Airways weren’t flying from XNA in March 2019, and those airlines offered a combined 7,500 seats last month to Denver, New Orleans, Tampa, Phoenix and Orlando.
American Airlines, which carried 41,884 of last month’s 80,742 passengers (51.9% of all travelers), also had more options. The airline provided about 4,000 more seats than in 2019.
It’s not clear how much of the big March traffic had to do with increasing comfort with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s possible more travelers felt safer traveling in March this year, but the number of COVID-19 cases isn’t much different than a year ago.
It remains too soon to make much of a trend, but XNA is on pace to beat 2019, its best year. Through this year’s first three months, the airport is 21,300 passengers ahead of 2019’s number of passengers.
It’s hard to know if the trend will persist as 2019 benefitted from airlines offering new destinations in the second half of the year.
Frontier started offering nonstop flights to Denver and Allegiant Air took off for Nashville in June 2019. American began nonstop flights to Miami and Philadelphia before year’s end.
As of now, no airline has announced new service at XNA that’ll start later this year.