Enplanements at Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill rose in May and June but remained significantly below the level they were in the same months in 2019 as airlines focused on leisure travel have accounted for a greater share of outbound passengers.
Enplanements, or passengers flying out, increased to 16,635 in June, from 8,739 in May, but enplanements are down 81.7% from June 2019, when enplanements hit a record high of 91,305. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the last time enplanements were lower than they were in June 2020 was February 1999, when enplanements were 16,571. In September 2001, enplanements were 21,326.
Through the first half of the year, enplanements have declined 54.6% to 196,767, from 434,232 over the same period in 2019.
Airport CEO Aaron Burkes said he expected business travel to rebound faster than leisure travel, but that’s not been the case.
“It’s absolutely the other way around in a really strong sort of way,” he said previously. “Business travel has for the most part not really picked up yet.”
Low-cost carrier Allegiant Air was the airport’s No. 2 carrier in May and June, behind American Airlines, and in May and June accounted for 1,223 and 3,958 enplanements, respectively. This was after Allegiant had no flights out of XNA in April.
Asked for a breakdown between business and leisure travelers, Andrew Branch, chief business development officer, said “while we don’t have any way to accurately determine leisure versus business travelers, estimates from airlines and industry groups would support the argument that leisure travelers are returning to fly more quickly than business travelers.
“Anecdotally, we hear that many of the corporations in [Northwest] Arkansas have reduced their travel schedules, and many of their workers remain working from home. If you look at the enplanement data, you can see that Allegiant Air [which primarily markets itself to leisure travelers] represented almost 24% of our travelers for June as compared to last June when they captured approximately 11% of the XNA enplanement market.”