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For the last decade, Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) has been my home base airport. While at times I’ve been frustrated over the fact that flights frequently take me to a nearby hub where I have to change flights to get to my ultimate destination, that is happening less and less frequently.

Improvements at RDU over the last few years have caught the attention of travelers near and far. USA Today has nominated RDU Airport’s Root & Branch for its “Best Airport Shop for Local Merchandise.” Whiskey River has been nominated for Best Airport Bar and Best Airport Bar Atmosphere. Read on to find out more about the Raleigh-Durham Airport.

inside of Raleigh-Durham terminal - check in lines

 

Travel

Almost 12 million passengers travel through RDU every year. Last year, the News & Observer (our local newspaper) reported that about 83 percent of all available seats on flights in and out of the airport were filled. With over 400 flights daily to 63 destinations and nonstop flights to 49 cities departing from RDU – including Toronto, London, Paris and Cancun, I can see why the popularity has increased. The airport’s three largest carriers are Delta, American and Southwest, but United, Alaska, Allegiant, Frontier, Air Canada and Jet Blue also operate here.

I’ll admit that I’m one of those obnoxious travelers who takes early morning flights and returns on late flights – meaning that I often miss out on the airport experience. But these nominations have given me an excuse to sleep in a little more and to actually enjoy the airport experience! As I looked around during my last trip, I saw how far RDU had come from the little airport that I first encountered almost 18 years ago.

inside terminal of RDU Airport

With nine gates, Terminal One is the smaller of the two compared to Terminal Two’s forty-five gates. Southwest Airlines occupies Terminal One. All other airlines are located in Terminal Two. Terminal Two is much larger and where many of the services are located. You can download a map of the terminals from this website: https://www.rdu.com/maps-and-directions/inside-rdu/

If you’re waiting for a connecting flight, or if you’re like me and perennially early for your flights, RDU offers a lot of options for dining and shopping to help you pass the time in a productive and enjoyable way.

storefront of Trip Advisor store

Shopping

The last time I flew from RDU I noticed new stores. A Vineyard Vines store was almost ready to open! No one tell my oldest son or he’ll expect something from here each time I travel! They join other well-known retailers such as Brighton, a favorite for jewelry and accessories. If, like me, you forget your sunglasses, visit 5th & Sunset. Need luggage? Visit Corsa Collections. Forgot your favorite electronics? Visit Inmotion or Tech on the Go. If you’re an adventure traveler, visit No Boundaries for apparel and accessories for the outdoor enthusiast. RDU even has a Duty Free store which is open to all travelers looking for top-shelf liquors and tobacco products.

duty free bottles on shelf

Need a spa service such as a manicure or pedicure or even a full body massage? Xpress Spa can help you look put together and relaxed. Looking for a unique gift or treat for yourself? Visit the Swarovski store. For the most unique gifts from this area, visit Root & Branch. Not only does the store carry products made by local artisans, but you can order items such as Duplin Winery wines.

Looking for books, snacks or small souvenirs? Check out Hudson or ink by Hudson or City Market News. Soon, the TripAdvisor will offer similar items, as well as local merchandise from the WRAL Travel Store.

Departing or arriving at odd hours? Self-serve kiosks by Best Buy fulfill your technology needs while Benefit allows you to replace any makeup you may have forgotten to pack.

Terminal One has a few stores. Looking for a snack, local souvenir or a book? Stop by one of the two Flight Stop locations. Need a travel accessory for your trip? Try it and purchase at Travelab. Or visit Marshall-Rousso for clothes or their shared store Ruby Blue if you are looking for jewelry and accessories.

Brookwood Farms store front

 

Restaurants

Food at RDU falls into two categories: fast food or full service. There’s a Starbucks in each terminal, but that’s where the similarities end.

Terminal Two

There are lots of fast food options in this terminal such as A&W All American Food, Five Guys (soon to be BurgerFi), and Popeyes Louisiana Chicken. Looking more for sandwiches and salad options? Try Bruegger’s Bagels, Jason’s Deli or California Pizza Kitchen. Want some Carolina barbecue? Try Brookwood Farms. Grab-and-go something for your flight from Camden Food Co. or Flavours. Panopolis offers freshly made baked goods and sandwiches. Prefer a sit down meal? A local favorite, 42nd Street Oyster Bar offers fine dining options. Enjoy a beer and wings at Carolina Ale House, with plenty of options to satisfy everyone in your group, or a beer and burger at Gordon Biersch. Prefer a glass of North Carolina wine? Visit Carolina Vintages where local wines are paired with locally sourced menu options.

bull riding bar inside RDU

Whiskey River takes the airport eating experience to the next level. Featuring an ambiance reminiscent of the Wild West with its cow skin seat backs and wall of belt buckles, the extensive menu includes Carolina traditions such as pulled pork sandwiches. There is even entertainment on some nights. It’s a shame that you have to travel to enjoy it but I can see why it made the USA Today list.

Terminal One

Looking for a quick bite? Char-Grill offers hamburgers and fries. Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina offers Tex-Mex specialties like burritos and tacos. La Tapenade Mediterranean Cafe offers a selection of sandwiches and flatbreads as well as beer and wine. The ACC American Cafe offers a selection of foods from ACC cities ranging from Boston clam chowder to NC barbecue sandwiches.

 

Starbucks inside RDU airport

My most frequented place inside RDU! Unfortunately, my last flight left too early for me to enjoy a coffee.

 

Services and Amenities

Airline Clubs

Terminal Two is home to two airline clubs: American Airlines Admiral Club and Delta’s Sky Club. Located just past the security checkpoint, you’ll find an elevator to the right inside Concourse C, just past 42nd Street Oyster Bar that will take you to the second floor. I’ve only ever been inside the American Airlines Club but I imagine they’re both similar in that they each offer their guests a more private area to wait with a bar, snacks, and even shower facilities for those who need them.

USO

North Carolina is home to six major military bases, with RDU being the largest airport for all of them. Located inside Terminal Two, the USO is next to the Starbucks before going through the security screening. If you’re a military member, enjoy some free snacks, pick up a book, watch a movie, or wait for a ride to the base. If you’re driving from RDU to a nearby base, check in with the USO to see if anyone needs a ride. Our military appreciate not having to wait too long after a flight!

 mamava pumping/breastfeeding pod

Lactation Stations

Mamava Lactation Pods are available in each terminal. These little pods provide a private space with seating and electrical outlets for the mom on the go.

Meditation Room

Airports used to have non-denominational chapels. RDU now offers a meditation room instead, whether you choose to use it as a chapel or a place to relax before your flight. You’ll find it before the security checkpoint in Terminal Two behind the American Airlines counters, next to the currency exchange.

ATMs and Currency Exchange

ATMs are plentiful and located throughout both terminals. Travelex Currency Services are available in Terminal Two before the security checkpoint, on the far wall behind the American Airlines counters. You should contact them in advance to see whether they carry the type of currency you’ll need at your destination. While Euros and Mexican pesos might be readily available, other currencies might be unavailable unless you’ve contacted them in advance.

Pet Relief Area

Traveling with your four legged friend? Pet relief areas can be found right outside each terminal.

Parking

Parking is pretty easy since the parking lot was expanded a few years ago. It was modernized so that you can now pay inside the terminal. Going away for more than a few days? Long-term parking is available. A shuttle will take you to the terminal.

Have an early morning flight? Several local hotels offer a park, stay, fly option. You can check availability through this website: https://raleighdurham.parksleepfly.com

Picking up someone from the airport? Wait for them in the convenient Cell Phone lot. Your guest can call you upon landing and let you know which gate they’ll be waiting by. Save yourself the time and effort of parking and you won’t get asked by security to move along.

Observation Park

Are you an aficionado of airplanes? Want a fun way to spend some time? Visit the airport’s observation park located near the private and cargo plane hangars. Follow signs for general aviation, between Terminals One and Two, and you’ll see signs where to park. Locals know this is a nice place to enjoy your lunch. You’ll hear the air traffic controllers through the speakers and have a mostly unobstructed view of the tarmac as you watch planes land and takeoff. This is a popular destination for families with children during the summer.

So now you have a reason to spend a little extra time at RDU! And don’t worry so much if you didn’t get a chance to eat or shop before your trip – RDU has plenty of options to fill your needs!

Have you flown through RDU? What did you think of your experience?

And if you’re in the area, check out all the great reasons to visit Durham.

Happy travels!

Annick, The Common Traveler

Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) - North Carolina's up and coming airport!