RDU is reporting sharp increases in travel this summer, as passengers set their sights towards the holidays.
The airport set a pandemic-record for passengers April thru July of this year; in July, more than 1.1 million passengers flew thru RDU, up 14% from July 2021.
"We've been busier than we've ever been. And it's exciting, and I'm glad to see people traveling again," said Marnee Revri, an independent contractor with Frosch Travel.
She said many clients opted for international trips over the summer, a result of pent-up demand as COVID metrics improved and travel restrictions eased, adding many clients are largely looking for warmer-weather destinations for the holidays.
"I would say book as early as possible. I would say booking next summer as soon as possible. You can still book now, but the availability is probably not as good," Revri said.
American Airlines has cancelled 31,000 flights in November and 14,000 flights in December, as well as rolling back some routes in September and October. United is hoping to hire hundreds of staffers ahead of the holidays; both airlines making these moves in an effort to avoid the delays and cancellations that impacted travelers the past few months.
"I'm hoping that later this fall, it should start to be alleviated. The airlines are making efforts to make that happen now. We are on a weekly basis receiving confirmation information from the airlines that they are actually changing schedules," Revri explained.
According to data from FlightAware, RDU saw the fourth-largest percent of cancellations from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, though it did not rank in the top ten for highest percent of delays.
Despite the difficulties, enthusiasm remains strong and prices high for the holidays. Last year, RDU reported there were 246,000 travelers through the airport Thanksgiving Week 2021 (up 140% compared to the same time period in 2020), and 943,000 travelers in December 2021 (up 146% compared to December 2020).
"Generally Christmas is very, very expensive. It's considered festive season. The rates are probably double or triple what you'd normally pay off-season. If you want to get better deals, you should go before the 15th, 16th of December," Revri explained, adding prices also drop in January shortly after New Year's Day.
She further encouraged people to utilize a travel agent, which could be helpful in navigating delays and cancellations, though noted there is a shortage of advisors in the industry, stemming from people finding new opportunities during the pandemic.
If you are in the midst of scheduling, part of your trip may already be paid for. As many plans were canceled during the pandemic, airlines extended flight credits, but some are set to expire. United and Delta have each shared plans to extend unused flight credits set to end at the end of this year through the end of 2023, though you should double-check your accounts to confirm the terms associated with your respective ticket.
Revri shared there has been a recent bounce-back in business travel, which is what brought Jon and Ami Pergal to downtown Raleigh for Hopscotch Festival.
"Basically just looking to check out the live music scene. That's the industry that we're in. So far, we're very impressed with the downtown area. It's very nice, clean, walkable," Jon Pergal noted.
Predictions from the Global Business Travel Association state a full recovery won't take place until 2026, though it's estimated 2022 will see nearly a 34% increase in business travel compared to 2021.