When I travel it is usually to Tampa for vacation which takes me on the typical LaGuardia/Tampa or LaGuardia/Atlanta/Tampa route. It is rare that I fly for work but in November I attended a conference in Raleigh for a non-profit organization that I sit on the board of. My last travel blog was the first stop on this trip, New York’s LaGuardia. In all honesty, Raleigh-Durham is one of the nicest airports I’ve ever been in. Tampa being #1 but RDU is a very close second.
RDU’s 2 terminals(Terminal 1 is currently being renovated) are serviced by Delta, US Airways, United, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier and American. I arrived in the early evening on a Delta flight from LGA and you couldn’t see much since it was dark. Being in a hurry to get to my hotel for a meet and greet I didn’t have a whole lot of time to look around. Flying in on a regional jet, I had a small rolling suitcase I checked at the gate. Rather than wait for it by the door of the plane, you walk up towards the terminal and they are all there on an elevator/shelf for you to grab. This alleviates a lot of congestion if you were to wait down by the plane.
After you exit the jetway the first thing that caught my eye (and this is probably from my construction background) were the beautiful wooden arches supporting the roof. The high ceilings provide a lot of open space and the lighting is excellent. The 900,000 square foot terminal is long, to say the least. However, there are people movers for those who choose not to walk it from one end to the other. I made my way past the security checkpoint (more on that later) and outside to catch the van to the hotel.
I’m not sure there is a better layout for ground transportation than there is at RDU. After crossing the lanes for cars to pick up arriving passengers, you will step onto a long center island. From here you can take your pick of waiting areas to take you to various rental car lots as well as ground transportation to local hotels. All of which are very well marked and signs point you in the right direction with ease.
When my conference was done the hotel shuttle brought me back to the airport on the upper level. As you enter you are greeted by tall ceilings and a spacious ticketing area. Wooden trusses and stainless steel trim pieces compliment nicely with floor to ceiling glass to provide plenty of natural lighting. There are windows in transitions where the roof changes elevations as well that keep the terminal well lit.
I was able to check in online that afternoon and had my boarding passes sent to my phone. If you had to check bags or get boarding passes, the ticket counter areas are very spacious and the lines seemed to be moving along well without a lot of congestion. There are a few shops with t-shirts and souvenirs along with snacks and a couple fast food/coffee options. Being the advanced luggage packer that I am, I left home with my American Express, but without a phone charger. Checking for one in LaGuardia was going to require an arm, leg and half of my Red Sox World Series beard but the prices weren’t all that bad at RDU. Sure it’s more than you’d pay at a big box store, but not bad considering the location, and I needed it.
The security checkpoint is something where my experience may very well be skewed. I arrived at the airport around 5:30 and while there were people going through, it was hardly what I consider busy. Regardless I breezed right through the body scanners without a big wait. Even with a lot of passengers to screen, they seem to be set up very well with lines to keep passenger traffic moving.
Upon exiting security a few steps or an escalator you are on the main concourse with two options, left or right. To the left are gates D1-D13 servicing United, Air Canada and US Airways. On the right are gates C1-C25 servicing Delta, American and Jet Blue. In either direction moving sidewalks(people movers) line the center of the concourse to keep people going along with plenty of room for those who want to walk.
The gate areas consist of your typical airport seating, it isn’t a Lazy Boy but it beats sitting on a pile of bricks. In the clusters of chairs there are plug ins for charging(SCORE!) devices, but the best part was there were your typical receptacles but also USB plug ins.
After charging my phone and iPad for a bit I ventured off to find some food. I had some Biscoff’s leftover from the flights down but I had to ration those. There is a nice selection of fast food including A&W, California Pizza Kitchen, Five Guys and KFC.
I was craving a beer and a burger or something so I decided to go to Gordon Biersch. Granted I’m from Maine and I’d never heard of them but the beer list looked pretty good. The menu bragged about their world famous garlic fries. If you’re a fan of carb loading like I am, this is your place. The shoestring fries with their garlic seasoning were some of the best I’ve had. I’ve never met a fry I didn’t like, but some are just better than others. Throw these in the top 3.
The most important thing here was the beer. I could have opted for any of them and been satisfied but the Hefeweizen jumped out at me. It’s your traditional wheat beer, however, it has banana hints not citrus. Usually not being a fruit flavored beer, but the banana isn’t overpowering and the spices compliment it nicely.
Ultimately I couldn’t find anything majorly wrong with RDU. If anything, they can give some others pointers on how to pull off an airport that is very much passenger friendly. The one thing I missed out on was being able to check out the spotting park. From reviews and photos I had checked out before going down it is a great facility to bring out your inner plane geek. Looks like there will be a plane spotting trip sometime from Bangor to Miami. With RDU a must see.