Liberated from loyalty, thanks to RDU Airport’s gain in altitude

Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is my home airport and has been my flying base for more than a half century.  I have literally circled the globe many times beginning and ending at RDU.

RDU airport

I’ve watched my airport grow from a big town/small city aerodrome for central North Carolina in the 1950s to the remarkably robust regional airfield it is today. RDU now has about 400 daily flights (that’s just over 200 in and 200 out per day) operated by nine airlines: Delta, American, Southwest, United, Alaska, Allegiant, Air Canada, Frontier, and JetBlue.

The many choices now offered, including partnerships like JetBlue’s with Emirates (which I used and enjoyed earlier this year), is good for me in this new era where I am detaching from loyalty to one or two carriers.  My five-plus million miles on Delta and over a million on American don’t count for much anymore. The big three airlines have severely devalued award travel and important perks like upgrades. I feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of flying these days: I get no respect!

Rodney Dangerfield 3
Rodney Dangerfield could mine a bottomless pit of “No Respect!” jokes from the agony of flying in 2016.

So what’s a dyed-in-the-wool frequent flyer to do?  I’ve been addicted to acquiring miles since American launched the AAdvantage program in 1981.  I joined immediately and still have the flimsy plastic card AA sent me 35 years ago.  My AAdvantage number is one of the original with all digits and no alphabetic characters.

It’s hard to kick the frequent flying habit, but RDU’s many services are making it a lot easier.

It wasn’t always so at RDU. Growing up, my parents would often take me to Raleigh/Durham Airport because airplanes and the prospect of flying excited me.  There, I’d watch for hours as the curvy, sleek Eastern Airlines Lockheed Constellations (called Connies) with their distinctive three vertical stabilizer tails floated down onto the runway and pulled up close to the short fence that then separated the tarmac from the parking lot.

Eastern Airlines Connie
The square windows on this Connie indicate it’s a “Super G” model

RDU did not offer a lot of choices then in airlines or destinations.  Today, RDU is a big place, and it feels like it.  Raleigh/Durham is expected to break through the ten million passenger mark in 2016, and it is planning for a lot more growth in the future (see the airport’s 2040 plan:

In fact, May 2016 saw record numbers for Raleigh-Durham International Airport: 514,217 total passengers, a whopping 15.3 percent increase over May 2015. Of those, 12,976 were international, up from 9,198 last year, in part attributable to Delta’s new 757 nonstop service to Paris CDG, which debuted May 12.

According to RDU figures, the top RDU carriers in May 2016 (enplaned passengers) were:

Delta: 150,113

American: 138,095

Southwest: 105,942

United: 60,400

While it’s true that those four airlines account for the majority of RDU seats, the other five carriers are growing their services, giving me more choices.

RDU boasts 40 nonstops, including nonstop flights to London (AA to LHR), Paris (DL to CDG), Cancun, and Toronto.  Nonstop flight destinations to the West include SFO, LAX, SLC, LAS, PHX, SEA, and DEN (three airlines serve Denver nonstop: United, Southwest, and Frontier).

Delta Airlines is aggressively expanding its non-hub destinations from RDU, too.  DL has announced three daily flights to Newark (starting in November) which will compete with UA, nonstop flights to DCA (which will be welcome competition to AA, currently the sole carrier RDU/DCA), and nonstop service to Fort Myers, Florida over Christmas.

When I groused about that Florida Gulf Coast service being on a stinking RJ, Joe Brancatelli pointed out brightly that it’s still better than flying on two RJ flights to get there, AND it avoids a hub connection!  Such is the beauty of a nonstop flight.

According to the Centre for Aviation (CAPA), “securing long-haul routes is a lengthy and challenging process” and the “competition to gain additional service is fierce.”  RDU is doing well by that measure with its aforementioned nonstop DL 757 service to Paris, its longtime AA nonstop to Heathrow (a 777 before the Big Recession, but still a widebody 767, usually full every day), and nonstop flights to every major western city except San Diego.

All of which is great for me.  I can still fly on Delta or American when I choose—and I will, especially on the nonstop flights that bypass hubs—while United, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Alaska, Air Canada, and Allegiant flights give me other options.  Altogether, the large number of daily flights, the wide variety of nonstop destinations, and the diversity of carriers free me from the shackles of loyalty that have kept me bound to one or two carriers for over three decades.  Thanks to the many choices available at RDU, I am finally liberated.



3 thoughts on “Liberated from loyalty, thanks to RDU Airport’s gain in altitude

  1. It would be helpful if you did not use nonstop and direct interchangeably. The latter commonly refers to flights that make one or more stops between origin and destination.

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