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RDU-Two opens in nick of time for NHL all-star fête -- but is hurry-up opening a big city or Mayberry move?

Flying back in on the Nashville to RDU late-night flight on Sunday, I walked the corridors of a more deserted-than-usual Terminal 1, where nary a soul scurried beyond the bustling gates of Southwest, the largest carrier by passengers at the airport.

Of course, Saturday evening had marked the big to-do, as US Airways and Continental shimmied over to the all-new Terminal 2, the second half of which opened to the traveling public this weekend.

It cost about a half-million dollars to accelerate the opening date for the new terminal to this weekend from its original February debut, something intended to give better first impressions, we hear, to those fans and officials flying in for this weekend's NHL All-Star Game at the RBC Center.

Assuming, of course, you're not a fan of the Predators, Lightning, Thrashers, Flyers or another team for which you're taking a non-stop on Southwest or AirTran, in which case, it's T1 for you.

Or a Devils or Caps fan, for that matter; RDU T2 may look brand new, but when USAir or Continental fly you in in equipment with manufacturer names like "Embraer" or "Bombadier" -- especially when you're in one of the latter's old DeHavilland Dash turboprops -- you know you're kicking it small-city.

All of which got me thinking: was accelerating RDU-Two really the best way to show off our region? Or is it, as I'm kinda inclined to think, the kind of men-of-commerce boosterism you'd associate with a small city?

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First, make no mistake: T2 is nice.

I moving-sidewalked my way over there last night through the parking deck breezeway to take a look. For a couple of years the first two concourses have been open, giving a glimpse of the grandeur of the terminal from its ticketing lobby, but the addition of the remaining part of the lobby really is impressive.

I ambled up to a Starbucks in the lobby at well past 10pm, only to have a chipper voice tell me, oh yes, we're open 24 hours a day.

A 24 hour Starbucks in an airport that goes to sleep after 10 most weeknights? Now that's a new thing.

RDU played the airport-hub game back in the 80s and 90s, losing out big time in building the Reagan-era Terminal C for American Airlines. Dozens of gates for making connections... and a security/screening area sized assuming that only a tiny fraction of pax would be locally originating.

Raleigh-Durham lost out to rival sister Charlotte, whose USAir hub has sprawled out to become, after Atlanta, perhaps the busiest connecting hub in the southeast -- and something that gave Charlotte a powerful inducement to companies looking for a place to put their operations.

One would be unwise to assume too much in the way of regional envy in the design of T2, but the rolling wood, steel, and glass look is a far more modern visage than Charlotte's dated-feeling megahub.

Of course, one also can't help but chuckle at some of the provincialism.

Take the electronic arrivals display board in T2. It's international heaven, scrawling by names of carriers like Qantas that couldn't find RDU on a map, but which technically "serve" RDU through their domestic partners code-share arrangements.

And, of course, decorations abound for this weekend's All-Star Game -- the perfect time, it seems, to showcase our region, or at least the Wake County side.

(Speaking of appearances, local blogger Ginny Skalski has a hilarious post questioning the VERSUS cable channel's marketing for the All-Star shindig, which seems to show sides of Raleigh that, er, don't exactly exist-- image courtesy ginnyskal.com:


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So, back to that little "image" thing.

As a year-long POW in Terminal 1 captivity, I can certainly appreciate that the early-80s dreary fashion of that space isn't what the Chambers of Commerce would want to show off to visitors.

But on the other hand, rushing the completion of Terminal 2 just seems... I don't know... like a small-town move?

If you've ever lived in a small city, or if you've seen pictures from their newspapers from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, you're familiar doubtlessly with the images I think of as "men of commerce" -- the suit-clad, clean cut members of civic organizations, turning out for a groundbreaking or to welcome a delegation from Detroit looking to open a manufacturing plant or to hear a talk from their state representative.

Grocers, local utility managers, homebuilders, the car dealer -- all showed up to play their part on the civic stage, and a certain community boosterism went along with it. Put your city's best foot forward, and let it shine!

Somehow, though, I don't think that a Tom Menino or Ed Koch would really worry about what their airport looked like for a big hockey all-star game. Come to think of it, I'm not sure a big hockey all-star game would really dent their awareness-meter more than a quiver.

Heck, if you've flown through Boston or New York in the past, oh, twenty years, you'd know that their airports are under a near-perpetual state of reinvention and reconstruction. Last time I flew through Logan in 2010, my biggest shock came from not seeing construction there, a perennial presence since the reconstruction work started in the early 1990s.

Yes, RDU-Two is a much nicer visage for the airport than its predecessor or its T1 partner.

But if we're trying to prove we're a major metro with big-city dreams, there comes a time you act like one.

And taking a page out of a playbook written for towns like Dunn or Kinston doesn't seem like the way to do it.

Want to impress the people flying in to RDU?

Get your airlines to stop flying in turboprops from places like Newark and get some gosh-darned Boeing and Airbus equipment for 'em instead.


Shaw Terwilliger

What's the problem with small turbojet aircraft? Sure, you need larger equipment to get from here to Seattle, but for most of the Eastern half of the United States regional jets are fast and comfortable. And Southwest's 737s aren't exactly small.

Kevin Davis

@Shaw -- As an A-Lister on Southwest, of course I am a big fan of their 737s (and the service, and all that.)

Then again, at six-foot-three and change (and not exactly a narrowbody), I groan every time I have to get on an RJ or turboprop. Fast? Yeah. Comfortable... depends.

It likely does not help that when I worked in IT consulting, I had to fly on a DeHavilland Dash-8 every week from CLT to north Florida, which was one of the more annoying flight experiences.


"Want to impress the people flying in to RDU?"

Public fucking transit integrating directly and efficiently to Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and RTP downtowns/bus stations/hubs running on 20 minute cycles or less.


Kevin, the airport "only" spent $500,000 to move up the project's completion date. Seems like a lot, but considering the entire project was budgeted on the order of $570 million, there's not too much difference. It was a low-hanging fruit opportunity.

I agree with you that mayors or Port Authorities in NYC or Boston might not have worried about this event, but the Triangle isn't NYC or Boston. We clearly don't have the ambition to be NYC or Boston, either.

The NHL All-Star game is all about corporate sponsors for the NHL (that's why game tickets weren't publicly available except to Hurricane's season ticket holders) who might not have otherwise traveled here. The polished RDU T2 provides a good first and last impression for these folks (who are more likely to be flying on a legacy carrier than Southwest or AirTran anyway). A little spit-polish can't hurt.

That said, I do wonder how long that Starbucks will be open 24 hours (or be open at all outside security for that matter). And the "International" carriers code-sharing is amusing. And it is still a crock that RDU doesn't have an official, well-publicized cell phone waiting lot, and that public transit to RDU is so infrequent. But none of these issues are really "Mayberry". And neither is RDU.


Mr. BCR,

Just curious, what's the reasoning behind Southwest being the last one to move into new digs, especially since you mention they're RDU's biggest carrier by passenger volume?


"Want to impress the people flying in to RDU?"

Public fucking transit integrating directly and efficiently to Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and RTP downtowns/bus stations/hubs running on 20 minute cycles or less.

WORD!!!! I'll take even 30 minutes cycles. It's preposterous that those not having a friend or family member in the area, are forced to expend nearly as much in a round-way taxi ride as their plane ticket to many of the east coast destinations.


Turboprops are less safe than larger planes, in response to the first comment on whey they are better (in addition to comfort concerns).


It may be a small town move, but what's wrong with that?

If you go back and read about what brought IBM to RTP (the first major tenant in the risky new business proposition by "Men of Commerce") the notes from IBM's advance team all say they were impressed by RTP and Durham/Raleigh's professionalism, helpfulness, and service.

Nose-bleed tickets at the All-Star game start at almost $400. $400! The only people coming to that game are Guests of the NHL, and professionals willing to pay $2,000 for half-way decent seats. I think these people will appreciate coming into the new terminal, and these people will not care about public transit.

I think it was a good move.


Cyrus, Southwest doesn't want to move because the rent in Terminal 1 is much lower than in Terminal 2. In fact, airport officials never intended for Southwest, AirTran or JetBlue to move to Terminal 2. This model separates the "legacy" carriers from the "low cost" carries who have different needs and expectations, ranging from concourse facilities to non-public infrastructure.

Shaw Terwilliger

Gloria, I said turbojet aircraft, not turboprop. I imagine the regional jets are probably also less safe than the big planes but the odds are still pretty good compared to something like driving. I avoid the propeller planes because I really dislike the noise.


I totally agree with the public transportation comments. It's ridiculous to have world-class city aspirations without public transportation access to the airport.


It's pretty hysterical that in planning the regional rail system TTA bypasses the airport and creates a shuttle bus to the airport from the rail station instead.


The worst problem about public transit at RDU is not the frequency or the fact that it directly serves only Raleigh. The worst problem is that it DOESN'T RUN ON SUNDAY. I've thought about taking the bus to/from the airport many times, only to realize that one of the legs of my journey was on Sunday and that it would not be possible.


Totally agree with the need for public transit - it really makes the airport seem extremely provincial and unwelcoming. The implication is that the airport serves travelers traveling to and from home, not visitors. Visitors are the provenance of places with tourist attractions - oh, wait, we have a bunch of great entertainment options, museums and restaurants....

Michael Bacon

I defer to almost no one in the need for public transit, but direct connections to airports are really expensive boondoggles in almost all respects. Why? They're very lightly used and require a lot of expensive airport land to build. Compared to the numbers generated by daily commuters, it's nothing. This isn't controversial or new information among mass transit planners. Hell, even in mass transit-crazy Paris, you have to take a train (not the Metro) to a shuttle terminal, then get a bus to the main terminal.

The train should have a stop near the airport, and RDU should run its circulator shutttles out to meet the train. Why does RDU resist? Simple: loss of parking revenue.

Rob Gillespie

I can't help but giggle at the Versus commercial.

Every time I look at that image, there's another thing that sends me cracking up. This time it was the fact that all the cars in the image are at least 20 years old.

I guess I just don't get what they were thinking on that one.


yes, but this isn't Paris. :)

How are you going to induce car centered individuals to try rail transit when it takes easily twice as long to utilize the service and costs the same as gas or a park and ride lot? In Atlanta (and lord knows they do everything perfectly there) MARTA goes directly into Hartsfield Jackson.

Of course, I'm basing this on the assumption that the TTA will not find new efficiencies in their operation and my own exceedingly frustrating experiences taking the bus to and from the airport. After riding TTA daily for years, trips to/from the airport made me want to never ride TTA again.


On Sunday,my Long Island-based sister and 92 year old mother flew in from La Guardia, arriving at Terminal 2. My sister's reaction to T2? She was so taken with the cleanliness (particularly of the bathrooms) the lack of crowds, and the level of service, especially with help for my mother's wheel chair, that she feels it will be "well worth the extra money to fly Delta next time in order to arrive via Terminal 2."


I understand that the newly renovated T1 (2013) will have Southwest as the primary tenant.

I flew into the new wing of T2 last night. Non-functional paper towel dispensers and a taped-off broken escalator after 4 days of use?

The real problem with T2 though is the extra foot traffic blocking off the road as they walk over to the parking deck. It looks like it's going to require a traffic light or a regularly stationed officer. And no indoor express pay machines? Can't you move some from T1 into this new giant ticketing area?


I didn't think much about this being a "Mayberry" move until I saw the headline on the N&O site today." VIPs, corporate types drawn to All-Star Weekend"

Now that's a pretty darn Mayberry headline if I've ever read one. It could only be better if they tweaked it slightly to, "City slickers drawn to All-Star Weekend".

We can do better.


A few observations:

1. That Raleigh/Durham does not model every decision after that which 'would be done' in NYC or Boston or LA does not mean the NC approach is 'small town.' The Triangle is very far from small town. Much more likely it's an issue of practicality; NYC's needs are not RDU's - for myriad reasons - and it would often make no sense whatsoever to emulate those cities.

2. RDU is full of 737, 757, MD80-90, A319-321. Not just once or twice a day but frequently. And, of course, some CRJ awesomeness. But I haven't flown a CRJ out of RDU in months, if not ~1-2 years. Appreciate RDU has no control over which equipment airlines use on their routes. It makes no financial sense to throw a 757 on each of Delta's routes to Cincinnati when they'd never fill them. Additionally, the passenger loads out of RDU to major destinations like LGA and JFK are split between legacy carriers. Yet another reason why smaller aircraft are used. Claiming RDU would make its most convincing argument for 'Big City' status by changing their aircraft obviously ignores how airlines operate.

3. RDU now has flights to LAX, LHR, Cancun, Vegas, along with all the major Eastern and Midwestern hubs, and it serves some rather obscure destinations, as well. Delta green-lit a daily nonstop to Paris before the economy tanked. RDU has certainly lagged since the AA hub days but airlines such as Delta continue to expand their services to hubs and nonstop destinations like BOS, BWI, ALB, etc. One could safely assume its services will continue to increase.

4. As someone who flies a lot, the new Terminal 2 is among the nicest terminals in the country. You give it underhanded compliments when the reality is the region made a huge statement through the introduction of a fantastic facility that makes a lot of the hub strongholds like ATL, LAX, JFK, ORD look like garbage, both aesthetically and logistically.

I've lived in LA and DC. I've done the big city thing. I'm not pretending the Triangle is Boston. But the area shouldn't be slammed for embracing its ever growing status and size. Sure, they're going to do some hokey things now and then but rushing to open a new facility to reinforce the progressive image of this area isn't 'Mayberry.' It's getting with the times. It's selling itself. It's easy to say officials in NYC wouldn't rush to open a new terminal at JFK for a national event when 1) no one expects anything great from JFK and 2) it's NYC - it has an established, well-known brand. JFK is merely required misery, the price of admission to an otherwise great show. The Triangle, despite being home to world-class universities and industry, still has to account for the 'Deep South' affiliation and the (often uninformed) perceptions that come along with The South. Even though this region has its own legs to stand on when it comes competing with some of the best, most progressive areas in the nation, it's understandable why it would choose to embrace an opportunity to demonstrate that further, especially when people from across the country were congregating here for a weekend.


RDU-Two opens in nick of time for NHL all-star fête -- but is hurry-up opening a big city or Mayberry move? C'est tres bien

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