Leisure travel growth leads RDU rebound :: WRAL.com

— The rebound is beginning at RDU.

Capitalizing on this spring’s sharp increase in leisure travel, airlines are adding routes and flights.

RDU spokeswoman Crystal Feldman told WRAL News says they’ve come a long way from the bottom of the pandemic, when airlines made deep operational cuts to stay afloat. She says at one point, RDU had lost more than half of its nonstop destinations.

“We are back up to around 60% of 2019, so there’s been a lot of progress,” Feldman said.

“Prior to COVID, we served 57 nonstop destinations and five international destinations,” she said. “Today, we’re at 45 nonstop destinations with two international destinations.”

American Airlines just announced it’s joining others with nonstop service to Tampa. The twice-daily flights will start in early November, the same time Spirit Airlines says it’ll begin flying nonstop from RDU to Miami.

While airlines including United and Sun Country have either introduced or reintroduced flights, American is making a major push at RDU, also adding Austin, Nashville, Tampa and Orlando to its list of nonstops from the Triangle.

“Airlines see this market as a great place to invest and restore their network,” Feldman said.

But what about the transatlantic flights that once connected RDU with London and Paris?

Feldman said American and Delta want to restore them.

“I would just ask people to continue checking back, and we’re hoping that that will change for this year,” she said.

While leisure travel is rebounding quickly, experts say what needs to change to really turn the tide is the return of business travel. Airport officials say nationally, corporate travel is still down about 70%.

In one more sign of a return to normalcy, “now hiring” signs are up at stores inside airport terminals. RDU store and restaurant managers say they’re hiring as quickly as they can to staff up for the increase in traffic.

The popular La Farm Bakery opens this weekend inside Terminal 2.

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