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The weeks after the Christmas holiday almost always prove challenging at Northwest Arkansas National Airport, and this year was no exception.

XNA saw 48,748 passengers last month, data shared by the airport on Tuesday shows. It was the airport’s smallest number of passengers since April last year, and it continued a string of 23 months impacted by COVID-19.

The airport in January 2020 saw 67,306 passengers, and that was not long before COVID-19’s impact on XNA started being felt in March 2020.

The better news comes via the airport’s three low-cost carriers. They carried 20.6% of all the airport’s passengers. Led by Allegiant Air’s 10.9%, the combination of Allegiant, Breeze Airways and Frontier Airlines has provided travelers with affordable ways to reach Austin, Tampa, Las Vegas and other cities.

Pilot Shortage, COVID-19 Challenge

Airlines nationwide have been challenged by pilot shortages which has led to airlines scheduling fewer flights, more cancellations and more delays. Additionally, the airlines continue to be impacted by COVID-19’s Omicron variant, creating staffing challenges.

Yet, there’s optimism as many believe the significance of COVID-19 is starting to wane.

If the airlines can effectively address the operational challenges created by the pilot shortage and COVID-19 illnesses, the airlines should see their numbers improve as the weather gets warmer. March starts what typically is the airport’s busiest travel season.

Nashville Restarts, Miami Expands

There are new flights about to start, and those could garner the attention of travelers. Allegiant starts twice-a-week seasonal flights to Nashville on March 3, and its seasonal flights to Destin begin April 22.

American Airlines, which is the airport’s biggest carrier, transitions its Saturday-only flight to Miami to one that occurs daily, beginning April 6.

A New York Times story published this week captures how airline travel could play out nationwide this year, providing many projects from experts about how the year is likely to be as COVID-19 restrictions are decreased or lifted entirely.