Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) in Highfill announced Friday (May 21) a new low-cost carrier will begin to provide three nonstop flights this summer. Salt Lake City-based airline startup Breeze Airways has opened booking for 39 nonstop flights to 16 destinations, including Northwest Arkansas.
Nonstop flights to Tampa, Fla., will start in June, and those to San Antonio and New Orleans will begin in July. The three flights will be scheduled each week for Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday.
“Today’s announcement is one more reason it’s great to live in Northwest Arkansas,” said Sara Lilygren, chairwoman of the XNA’s board of directors. “The business and leisure options just keep growing. Congratulations to Breeze and XNA on a win-win relationship.”
One-way flights start at $39, and customers can use the Breeze smartphone app to book flights, in-flight upgrades, rental cars and food orders. Breeze does not charge change or cancellation fees. Link here for flights.
“We’ve monitored the development of Breeze over many months, and we’ve worked with others in our community to share the Northwest Arkansas success story to the Breeze team,” said Aaron Burkes, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas National Airport. “At the end of the day, an airline’s decision to come is a statement of confidence about what that community is and what it’s going to be. It’s a compliment to this incredible region that they’ve decided to do business here.”
Breeze is the fifth airline startup founded by entrepreneur David Neeleman, who also established Azul, JetBlue, Westjet and Morris Air.
“We created Breeze as a new airline merging technology with kindness,” Neeleman said. “Breeze provides nonstop service between underserved routes across the U.S. at affordable prices. A staggering 95% of Breeze routes currently have no airline serving them nonstop.”
Its initial 16 destinations span the southeastern United States, but Neeleman said Breeze is considering 100 more cities for nonstop flights. Some of the initial cities in which Breeze will operate include Charleston, S.C., Louisville, Ky., Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Pa., Richmond, Va., and Tulsa, Okla.
Breeze will operate 13 single-class Embraer aircraft this summer, flying routes with an average flight length under two hours. The 10 E-190 jets will be configured to seat 108 guests, while three E195 aircraft will have 118 seats. Breeze will start taking delivery of 60 new Airbus A220 aircraft starting in October, and they will be delivered about one per month for five years. The A220 routes will be announced this fall, and flight times will be longer than two hours.
“Another low-cost carrier at XNA is great news for Northwest Arkansas,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “The region continues to grow rapidly, and Breeze’s presence provides more travel options for business and leisure travelers and will eventually lower costs for flights out of XNA.”
In April, XNA enplanements, or passengers flying out, rose by 1,209% to 41,261, from 3,151 in the same month in 2020. Between January and April, enplanements have declined by 30.4% to 119,260, from 171,393 in the same period in 2020. In April 2020, enplanements fell by 95.6% to a record low following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid the pandemic, leisure travel has rebounded more quickly than business travel. Asked whether this trend has continued and how the new flights will affect it, Andrew Branch, chief business development officer for XNA, said “we still believe (and this is supported by industry news) that leisure travel is coming back much quicker than business travel. These new routes from Breeze are geared largely to the leisure traveler and provide three more great low-price, nonstop options for NWA travelers.”
In recent equity research on North American airlines, analysts Brandon Oglenski, Eric Morgan and David Zazula, all of Barclays, said domestic leisure demand has started to resemble pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, business travel demand remains down. Southwest recently said business travel is at about 20% of pre-pandemic levels. U.S. airlines revenue remains down about 45% in the second quarter compared to 2019.
“Nonetheless, most airline management teams have recently commented at an encouraging pace of recovery in leisure bookings, resembling pre-pandemic fares and demand relative to the same period in 2019,” the analysts said.
By July, XNA will have 19 nonstop flights provided by six airlines to 17 destinations. The destinations include Atlanta, Austin, Texas, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, Denver, Destin/Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Tenn., New Orleans, Orlando/Sanford, Fla., Phoenix/Mesa, Ariz., San Antonito, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C.
In 2019, XNA reported record enplanement growth. Enplanements rose 17% to 922,533 in 2019, from 788,261 in 2018. In June 2019, low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines started operating at XNA, offering nonstop flights to Denver. Also that year, XNA changed its name to Northwest Arkansas National Airport to better communicate to where its passengers can travel.
“XNA is a vital component of our community and economy,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers. “This new air service will be a great asset to the region, bringing increased choice and value to the airport and travelers. A point that is especially important as we turn the corner on the pandemic. I look forward to seeing residents and businesses take advantage of Breeze by reconnecting, traveling and exploring included destinations.”