XNA to again see daily flights to Los Angeles

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 349 views 

Northwest Arkansas business and leisure travelers will soon have another way to see the world as American Airlines is adding non-stop flights from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport to Los Angeles International Airport in Southern California starting Aug. 27.

The flight, operated by American Eagle, is a return to the XNA-LAX route for American and makes it the second airline, in addition to Allegiant Air, to provide non-stop flights between the two airports.

Scott Van Laningham, CEO of XNA, said the flight would be a permanent route, though he said "it's based on ridership."

The issue of ridership has cost the airport recently as service announced last year between XNA and Washington's Reagan National Airport on U.S. Airways was eventually scrapped, the second time such a decision has been made on the XNA-DCA route in the airport's history.

"It was a lack of ridership," Van Laningham reiterated. "What we heard from our regular Washington travelers was that the timing was not good. It was late afternoon. People would prefer to get there in the morning to get some work done. They just didn't get the ridership."

The route was previously served by American Airlines in the early 2000s, with Van Laningham saying he would often fly the route.

"I happened to be on (the American Airlines route) for two months before they pulled the plug. It wasn't half full."

He hopes the resurrected route to LAX will have continued high ridership, though he admits that cheaper fairs in neighboring metro areas such as Branson, Fort Smith and Tulsa have impacted the number of travelers at XNA.

"For the discretionary traveler, you can find some pretty good deals. But the business traveler, and that's the airline model, as seats are sold, the remaining seats go up in value. The business travelers often (book much later than leisure travelers). We are aware that they are paying much higher prices,” Laningham explained.

In a press release, American Airlines said expanding their flight schedules from the LAX hub was an important step in serving the business traveler.

"Our Los Angeles hub plays a vital role in our domestic and international strategy," said Virasb Bahidi, America's chief commercial officer. "…we offer customers seamless access to the most important business and leisure travel destinations across the globe from LAX."

American's hub differentiates it from leisure airline Allegiant, as travelers on American will be able to catch flights from Los Angeles to numerous destinations in Asia and South America while Allegiant only offers point-to-point service from the airports it serves, limiting its customer's options out of XNA.

The airport, which recently completed the addition of a new terminal, is always courting additional routes and carriers, which Van Laningham said should help to eventually lower prices.

One benefit to airlines, he said, is that the number of travelers at XNA is rising, while competing airports have seen declines.

"Our numbers are up slightly for the year – two or maybe three percent. I haven't seen the numbers in a while, but I know from talking to our counterparts in the industry, other folks are down four or five percent. We're pleased with where we are at," he said.

Enplanement numbers show 54,620 passengers traveled through the airport in May, up 4.39% from the same time last year. Additionally, 228,294 passengers have traveled through the airport during the first five months of this year, up 3.48% over the same period last year.

The new concourse, he said, should continue to help the airport court not only new travelers, but possibly a new discount carrier, such as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines or Denver-based Frontier Airlines.

"We're in discussions, what I'm describing to everyone as the shotgun, not the rifle approach. We will talk to anybody and everybody," he said with a laugh. "We have had some interest, so we are having those discussions. But you just never know until you finalize the deals. Over the years, we've learned it's never final until it's final."

The addition of flights to Los Angeles and the continued discussions with discount carriers come at the same time that the airport is losing non-stop service to Memphis International Airport in September due to Delta's continued downsizing of its Mid-South hub just over the Mississippi River from Arkansas.

"They're just cutting back the Memphis connection not just for us, but for several (airports). We hate to lose that. It was a nice connection. But there's nothing we can do about that, unfortunately."

Fort Smith Regional Airport has also lost service to Memphis, with that route being replaced by three daily flights to Atlanta.

Even with the loss of the Memphis route, XNA will still be able to fly travelers to both coasts non-stop, with flights to 14 destinations on five airlines across the country:
American Airlines:
• 8 flights daily to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
• 7 flights daily to Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
• 3 flights daily to New York LaGuardia (LGA)
• 1 flight daily to Los Angeles starting Aug. 27 (LAX)

Delta Airlines:
• 7 flights daily to Atlanta (ATL)
• 1 flight daily to Cincinnati (CVG)
• 1 flight daily to Detroit (DTW)
• 2 flights daily to Minneapolis (MSP)

United Airlines
• 4 flights daily to Houston (IAH)
• 1 flight daily to Newark (EWR)
• 3 flights daily to Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
• 1 flight daily to Denver (DEN)

U.S. Airways
• 3 flights daily to Charlotte (CLT)

Allegiant Air
• 2 flights weekly to Los Angeles (LAX)
• 2 flights weekly to Orlando Sanford (SFB)
• 2 flights weekly to Las Vegas (LAS)