Northwest Arkansas National Airport remains a few steps behind the record-breaking travel it experienced in 2019, but its passenger numbers appear to be growing by the day.
The 83,224 passengers who departed from XNA last month led to the airport’s highest number of boardings since October 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its spread that started in March 2020 crushed the air travel industry nationwide, and it led to XNA and most airports experiencing the smallest amounts of travel they’ve ever seen. The tide began to turn for air travel about a year ago as COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.
Travel restrictions are gradually being lifted, too, which should make international travel more popular. The Biden administration announced today that it would eliminate its requirement that international air travelers be tested for COVID-19 within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. The restriction ends at 11:01 p.m. central time on Saturday.
Flights at XNA have been packed in recent weeks, and it’s giving officials hope that travel may approach the incredible summer they saw in 2019. In June and July that year, more than 91,000 people boarded flights, XNA’s biggest passenger numbers in its nearly 24 years of operation.
Challenging the airport’s ability to reach new highs are staffing issues being experienced by airlines. The biggest is the national pilot shortage.
American Airlines, XNA’s largest carrier, announced just a week ago that it would ground about 100 planes nationwide because it doesn’t have enough pilots to staff them. Other airlines, including United, Delta, JetBlue and Alaska, have grounded planes and trimmed their schedules because of their own pilot and staffing issues.
The flight schedules are more limited this summer at XNA when compared to 2019, and that’s a consideration, too. The number of seats on planes available for purchase for travel in May 2019 was about 500 more each day than in May this year. Airline schedules show similar differences in June and July.