Low-cost carriers and legacy airlines add nonstop destinations from RDU in time for summer travel

Breeze has added six new destinations from RDU in about six weeks. Photograph courtesy of Breeze Airways.


By Gregory DL Morris

ORANGE COUNTY — Just last week, Avelo Airlines inaugurated nonstop service from Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) to Albany, New York (ALB). It is the only carrier operating that route, and it is the airline’s sixth nonstop destination from RDU. Another low-cost carrier, Breeze Airways, is in the midst of a major expansion, adding six destinations from RDU in the space of about six weeks.

A third discount carrier, Frontier, adds Hartford, Connecticut (BDL) and Milwaukee (MKE). Notably, the current additions put Breeze and Frontier in competition on several routes: Syracuse, New York (SYR), Portland, Maine (PWM), and Milwaukee.

In June, Lufthansa will inaugurate service to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) in collaboration with partner United. In July Aeromexico will start flying to Mexico City (MEX) as part of the alliance with Delta. Those routes will raise the international destinations served from RDU to nine.

RDU now counts 69 nonstop destinations, which is more than the pre-pandemic peak. (A non-stop flight is just that, one point to the other; a direct flight is through an intermediary destination but with no change of aircraft or flight number.)

As readers plan  summer travel, TLR offers guidance

  • Don’t be mesmerized by rock-bottom base fares. Be selective: although the all-in price with seat selection and luggage may be significantly higher, it could be worth it. Use a three-step process when finding flights: search overall round-trip fares on a travel website to get a price range; then check fares for specific itineraries on the website of a mainline carrier; finally, check the all-in cost at discount carriers.
  • Be polyamorous with affinity programs. Join them all, but have one primary airline, hotel chain, and car rental company. Try accumulating enough spending to reach the first premium level, but don’t be beholden. Have a regular secondary, especially if your primary does not serve a particular destination. Dally with the occasional tertiary if you can find a deep discount or for an optimal schedule.
  • You don’t always have to rent a car! Easy and reliable public transportation is sorely missing at RDU, but most airports in North America now have good transit service into town.
  • If you do have to rent a car, consider a location away from the airport. Airport car rental lines are long, and extra fees can increase the total cost by a third or more. A $2 train ride or $20 cab could save $200 in extra charges. Remember to build in more return time.
  • Pack light. You’re not going on safari.
  • Get to the airport early, especially if you have to check bags. Many nonstops at RDU depart early in the morning. It is not unusual for the bag-drop lines at 6 a.m. to be long and slow and for the security line to snake around the inside perimeter of the terminal.

RDU is an operational and maintenance base for Avelo, which supports on-time performance and flight completion. Photograph courtesy of Avelo.

The new Breeze routes vault it into the top tier of airlines at RDU in terms of nonstop destinations. RDU is among the few larger airports that are not a fortress hub for any carrier, as Charlotte (CLT) is for American and Atlanta (ATL) is for Delta. RDU’s website shows Delta leads with 20 nonstop destinations, Frontier has 19, Breeze has 18, American has 17, and Southwest has 16. (Some nonstop destinations are only served seasonally, so the exact number will vary.)

A second group serves six nonstop destinations each: Avelo, United, and Jet Blue. There is also a third tier of about a dozen airlines that serve just one destination from RDU. Several of those are code-share partners, particularly to international destinations. Air France serves Paris (CDG), a route it has taken over from its partner Delta. Similarly, British Airways serves London (LRH) on a route that used to be flown by its partner, American. Air Canada serves both Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL) in cooperation with United.

Delta and American are two of the largest carriers at RDU, both in terms of the number of nonstop destinations and the total number of passengers. Photograph courtesy of RDU Airport Authority.

After reducing service from RDU during the pandemic, Frontier has rebuilt the number of nonstop destinations. Photograph courtesy of Frontier.

 It is important to note that many of the nonstop destinations served by the low-cost carriers do not operate daily. For example, Frontier is the only airline with nonstop service to Buffalo (BUF). But that flight only operates on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, with an hour and a half flight time.  Connections on other days are offered through Atlanta, Tampa (TPA), Orlando (MCO), and Denver (DEN), with total travel times ranging from six to more than 24 hours. Frontier did not respond to inquiries.

Less-than-daily frequency puts a premium on reliability. Courtney Goff, communications manager at Avelo, said her airline has an advantage because RDU is an operations and maintenance base. “The planes that serve RDU live there. We consistently rank high in on-time performance and flight completion, and when things are outside our control, such as weather, we have some flexibility with extra aircraft to support the schedule.”

Avelo follows an incremental approach to growth, Goff explained. “We start twice a week on new routes, then go to four and six times as demand indicates. Our inaugural flights to and from Albany were mostly full, which is a great start.”

The approach at Breeze is similar. “The target guest is the more flexible leisure traveler,” said Gareth Edmondson-Jones, communications director. “Cancellations are few. Breeze currently has a 99.6% completion factor on its flights in the last year. We’ll continue to add extra frequencies as the flights fill on other days of the week, but clearly, we also want to offer many destinations too. Breeze started from RDU in February last year, so offering 18 nonstop destinations in 15 months speaks to the demand from the Triangle region and Breeze’s model of connecting RDU to locations with no previous nonstop service.”

Many RDU flights leave early in the morning, and lines can be long, even at 6 a.m. Pack light to avoid checking luggage, and get to the airport two hours before departure time. Photograph courtesy of RDU Airport Authority.

Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.

This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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