Drawing the attention of regional residents and prioritizing travel through Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is the goal of a new program announced today by the Northwest Arkansas Council.
The start of the FareFlightNWA program comes just a few weeks before low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines begins flights from XNA to Denver. Allegiant Air, which has offered low-cost flights for years, continues to expand at XNA and starts a new nonstop flight to Nashville this week.
“While existing carriers offer excellent access for area residents, XNA has some of the highest fares in the country, making it a less attractive option,” said Northwest Arkansas Council President and CEO Nelson Peacock. “The price of air travel is a key consideration, but XNA offers significant conveniences over other airports located many miles away, and there are acceptable fares available at XNA. Our goal is to highlight the benefits of XNA and publicize low fares anytime they become available.
“By working independently to grow the number of XNA passengers and ensuring the success of airlines offering affordable flights, we’ll be demonstrating that airlines with low-cost options can thrive at XNA. That benefits our business and leisure travelers.”
Fares at XNA have challenged Northwest Arkansas for years. The average domestic roundtrip costs more than $500 most years, and information kept by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows XNA’s passengers spent $120 to $190 per roundtrip above the national average in each of the past four years. That premium — the gap between the national average and the XNA average — has cost XNA travelers more than $100 million in each of the past four years.
The high fares drive economic impact away from Northwest Arkansas, and they create inconveniences for travelers looking to avoid high fares. Indeed, high fares are cited most often as the reason passengers fly from other airports. The airport’s “leakage,” which is the percentage of people who choose to drive from where they live near XNA to more distant airports, is near 40 percent.
Driving down the average fare at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport would be a huge economic win for the region’s leisure and business travelers, and that’s why the Northwest Arkansas Council continues to work with XNA officials to attract additional air service. Every $10 reduction in XNA’s average fare saves the airport’s travelers about $8 million a year, and that savings increases as the airport attracts more passengers.
The FareFlightNWA program includes a new website — FareFlightNWA.org — and the program highlights the benefits of flying from XNA. Among the program’s objectives are public presentations and conversations with large employers, small businesses, travel-focused organizations and civic groups about fares and air service at XNA. The Council wants to arm travelers with the best information about XNA before they make travel decisions.
The FareFlightNWA website includes a cost comparison calculator, allowing visitors to determine the true cost of flying from XNA versus Tulsa and Kansas City airports once gasoline, parking fees and other costs are factored in. The website also includes information about why prioritizing XNA is a direct benefit to the region and how flying from XNA contributes to the local economy.
“Travelers are price sensitive and they should be,” Peacock said. “We intend to arm people with the information they need to make their travel from XNA more affordable. At the same time, we want to make sure travelers recognize the conveniences to flying from close to home. Ultimately, we hope they choose XNA.”