If you've been to RDU International Airport in recent weeks as more states and countries announced loosened COVID-19 restrictions, you've probably noticed longer lines, harder-to-come-by parking spots, and higher airfares.
For a brief perspective, a year ago there wasn't an available vaccine and many flights were canceled or routes not offered by airlines.
Fast forward a year and the landscape is much different.
According to a recent announcement from RDU, more than 772,000 passengers traveled through the airport in May 2021; a 688% increase from the same time last year. However, that figure is 41% lower than May 2019.
"With the pandemic, a lot of people have not been able to get out and explore their destinations," said Raleigh travel agent Stacy Gray. Gray owns and operates Adjust to the Good Life Travel and has done so for more than nine years now.
"A lot more people are booking bucket list trips and destination because they haven't been able to travel in the past year."
Airlines have said airfares have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Industry experts suggest this is because business travel, which is largely profitable, has not rebounded. More travelers are traveling for leisure, which isn't as profitable. Not to mention, airlines are flying fewer routes than they were pre-pandemic.
For example, prior to COVID-19, RDU Airport serviced 57 nonstop destinations, which included five international destinations. As of June 2021, the figure decreased to 45 and two, respectively.
"I haven't flown very often and a bunch of trips got canceled," said Raleigh mother Tara Powers. She and her two daughters were en route to Long Island, NY to visit family.
"People are more positive in general," said Powers. "Last summer it seemed like there just wasn't an end in sight and now all of a sudden everyone is excited to do somewhat normal things and go on vacations."
Gray encourages travelers to book early and use a travel agent for the best deals and to save time, money, and potential headache.
"The earlier you book, even for next year, you're going to see the better rates than you would have waited until the last-minute," said Gray. "I think the trend in the past has been if I wait until the last-minute I'll have some better deals. But we're not seeing that as a trend now."
Gray said the number one most-requested destination she is booking right now is Hawaii.