2021 and RDU — the great restart

Will RDU be “back” in 2021? Based on the newest JetBlue announcement, RDU is already on the way back, and then some.

Earlier today, JetBlue announced that they would add a host of new destinations from RDU in early 2021 — including Austin, Newark, Orlando, Tampa, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Jacksonville, Fla.

Today’s announcement was probably the strongest statement of confidence I have heard re: air service in this market — and air service in general — since March of this year. And it comes on the heels of the cadre of JetBlue nonstops just added in November and December from RDU:  Los Angeles, Fort Myers, Cancun, Mexico, San Juan, and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

These recent announcements mean that JetBlue’s local offerings will have grown from only 3 nonstops last year (Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and New York/Kennedy) to 15 nonstops by March 4, 2021.

This means that by early spring, JetBlue will be the largest airline at RDU, based on number of nonstops (tied with Southwest at 15 destinations).

While all of this is good news for our community, what does it say about overall air travel?

There seems to be a consensus that business travel, at least on an individual basis, may not immediately return to pre-pandemic levels. However, there is clearly a lot of pent-up demand to connect in a way that only air travel can provide.

As the vaccine roll-out continues and America approaches herd or population immunity, air travel will increase… perhaps with new people taking to the skies.

To be clear, reducing the amount of air travel can definitely provide cost and other savings on the front end, and potentially support corporate sustainability goals. On the other hand, traveling by air delivers both expected and unexpected connections — and those connections can often lead to both new revenues and future cost savings.

The bottom line is that while both the trajectory and future “flight levels” for travel are uncertain, the desire to get together, in person, is a human one that cannot be stopped, pandemic or not.

RTA is committed to ensuring that RDU will be successful, so that our region will be successful, at whatever appropriate level of air service this community requires. Our RTA RDU AID task force will restart its work later this winter in concert with Airport leadership, and we look forward to the ongoing partnership.

Let’s get moving,


Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director

RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation


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