Travel Updates: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Information for travelers about Coronavirus
An outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first detected in China and has now been detected in more than 125 countries, including the United States. The federal government has declared a public health emergency for the U.S. and established a task force dedicated to addressing this rapidly evolving situation. At this time, most people in the United States have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily in airplanes and the risk of infection while traveling by air is low. CDC suggests that travelers avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often. Symptoms may appear 2 – 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. CDC recently recommended that individuals wear a cloth mask in public settings, particularly where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
How you can stay healthy
Public health experts recommend good personal hygiene as the best way to prevent illness, including:
- Washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throwing the tissue in the trash and washing your hands.
- Avoiding contact with people who are sick and staying home when you are sick.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
RDU is working with public health officials at the local, state and federal levels, along with Airports Council International, the trade association for airports around the country, on best practices associated with the coronavirus. We are tracking the latest information from public health experts and continue to stay apprised of the latest developments regarding the spread of the virus.
Travel advisories are in place for countries experiencing outbreaks of the coronavirus. If you are planning to travel, check with your airline with any questions about your itinerary. Airline contact information and travel alerts can be found via the “Resources” section of this page.
A new TSA security directive regarding masks went into effect in February. The directive requires airports to ensure that that everyone wears a mask at all times in or on airport property. Refusing to wear a mask on airport property is a violation of federal law and state executive order and may result in removal or denial of re-entry to airport facilities, as well as penalties under federal and state law.
The total number of passengers who traveled through RDU in January was just over 300,000, down 70% from January of 2020. Sunday, Jan. 3 was the busiest travel date of the month, with TSA screening nearly 11,000 departing passengers. That was down 55% compared to the Sunday following New Year’s in 2020.
January and February are typically RDU’s weakest traffic months of the year, driven by declining demand for leisure travel between the December holiday season and spring break.
Effective Jan. 26, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will require all airline passengers flying into the U.S., regardless of vaccination or antibody status, to provide a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight. The CDC describes the new federal requirement as a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19.
Passengers will be required to:
- Get a viral test within the three days of their flight to the U.S.
- Provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19.
Prior to boarding, airlines must confirm a negative test result or documentation of recovery. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) closed 2020 with 66% fewer passengers than 2019 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of nearly 4.9 million passengers flew through RDU during calendar year 2020, compared to a record-setting 14.2 million in 2019. The last time RDU served only 4.8 million passengers was in 1987.
The week beginning Dec. 28 was the busiest of the pandemic period with 112,000 total passengers, but it represented a 56% decrease in traffic compared to the same week in 2019. Total traffic for December 2020 was 371,000 passengers, a 70% decrease from December 2019.
TSA screened 52,812 departing passengers at RDU for the week ending Sun., Dec. 27 – a 14% increase over the previous week, but down 63.5% from the same week in 2019. The week totaled 2.9% more traffic than the week of Thanksgiving and had the highest passenger count since mid-March.
The increase in passenger traffic at RDU last week follows a national trend with TSA also reporting the best year-over-year performance since the onset of the pandemic. Sun., Dec. 27, had the highest TSA passenger count since March 16.
Airlines continue to add service to RDU, with new flights beginning in January:
- 7: American Airlines resumes nonstop service to Reagan National Airport (DCA)
- 11: JetBlue will add daily service to Austin (AUS), Jacksonville (JAX), Newark (EWR), Orlando (MCO) and Tampa (TPA)
- March 4: JetBlue will add daily service to San Francisco (SFO) and Las Vegas (LAS)
JetBlue’s nonstop service to SFO will be RDU’s first direct flight to the Bay Area since the pandemic began. These new flights help reconnect the Research Triangle to the major tech centers of Austin and San Francisco, while also providing service to some of the most popular markets RDU customers want to visit for business and leisure.
Passenger traffic increased at RDU over the Thanksgiving holiday, with TSA screening 51,333 departing passengers during the week of Monday, Nov. 23 – Sunday, Nov. 29. The combined departing and arriving passengers for the week totaled approximately 103,000. That represents a 12% increase over the previous week and a 64% decline over the same holiday week in 2019. Last week’s traffic volume was the highest RDU has seen since travel plummeted by nearly 97% at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. TSA has not provided single-day passenger screening totals.
RDU welcomed five stores back to Terminal 2 in November and December. 5th & Sunset, Tech on the go, Swarovski and No Boundaries reopened in late November and Corsa Collections reopened in early December. They joined other RDU retailers who have opened their doors in time for the holiday shopping season after temporarily closing due to the decline in air travel.
RDU is taking action by adding new measures to protect the health and safety of everyone who visits the airport. The new safety measures comply with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health entities. Click here to download a PDF that summarizes RDU’s response to the global health pandemic.
TSA screened 46,548 passengers at RDU during the week ending Oct. 25, a decline of 69% from the same week in 2019. Across the country, passenger volume was down 64% the same week. RDU is experiencing incremental growth in passenger volume but lags behind the national average due to its traditional reliance on business travel.
Airlines have made several notable changes to their November schedules at RDU. Southwest cut the number of available seats by 60% for November and 65% for December. This is the most pronounced cut Southwest has made since the onset of the global health crisis.
American Airlines reduced its available seats by 71% for November, while United made a 65% reduction compared to 2019. Delta added seats to its November schedule, taking Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Orlando (MCO) and Tampa (TPA) from five times a week to once a day service.
RDU has posted weekly updates about the impact of COVID-19 on passenger traffic since the onset of the global health crisis. After some modest peaks during the summer leisure travel season, passenger volume has settled at a steady rate. Because only minimal fluctuations are expected through the end of the year, RDU will post monthly rather than weekly updates starting in September.
TSA screened 40,785 total departing passengers at RDU for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 27 – up 2.7% from the prior week and down 72% compared to 2019. At the national level, TSA screened passenger traffic was down 68% from 2019. This was a slight improvement over the 69% decline seen last week, and actual traffic numbers increased a marginal 0.5% from week-to-week.
Airlines continue to announce the return of nonstop service to RDU but their schedules will be driven by demand for the returning routes. American Airlines planned to resume its nonstop flight to London (LHR) in October but has postponed that service to March 2021 due to low bookings, particularly among business travelers.
RDU will continue to monitor trends in passenger traffic and airline schedules and update this page monthly or more frequently as needed.
TSA at RDU screened 41,250 total departing passengers during the week ending Sunday, Sept. 6 – an 11.5 percent increase over the preceding week, due in part to the Labor Day holiday.
The airport’s departing passenger tally for the week reflects a 66.1% decline versus the same week a year prior – the smallest decline in total weekly screened traffic year-over-year since airport officials began observing COVID-19 impacts to passenger volume in late March.
NOTE: As Labor Day occurred a week earlier in 2019 than in 2020, the year-over-year comparison data is not a comparison of holiday weeks. Comparing Labor Day holiday weekends, RDU traffic was down 70.7 percent, still representing an improvement in year-over-year trends.
The number of available seats is down 64 percent in September compared to the same month last year, while the current October capacity level is down 60 percent versus October 2019. While all airlines at RDU have added more seats to the schedule in October, fall airline demand typically is more dependent upon business traffic versus summer months. Corporate bookings at RDU remain 90 percent below 2019 levels.
The number of passengers screened by TSA at RDU during the week ending August 23 was down 3.6% from the previous week and down 73% compared to the same week in 2019. RDU’s 73% year-over-year traffic decline was on par with the previous week’s 72.9% decline. Total passenger levels for all U.S. commercial airports was down 71.6% year-over-year. The week-to-week decline in travel is typical for the beginning of the school year, when the summer leisure travel season traditionally comes to a close.
The number of available flights at RDU for the month of September is currently scheduled to be approximately 65% of September 2019 levels. This is a larger drop than was experienced in August, when RDU saw a 60% year-over-year decline, but is comparable what airports across the country are experiencing.
Delta recently announced a list of international flights it plans to bring back during the winter and summer months, including nonstop service between RDU and Paris, which Delta intends to resume in March of 2021. While this is an encouraging sign for the eventual return of international routes to RDU, travel restrictions and international demand will also factor into when Delta relaunches the Paris service.
RDU had its busiest week since passenger traffic hit its lowest point in mid-April due to the global health pandemic. TSA screened 41,670 departing passengers the week ending Sunday, Aug. 10, a 74.2% decline over the same week in 2019, but a 6.4% increase over the week before. Airports across the U.S. reported a similar uptick in the number of screened passengers.
Consistent with national trends, the number of people flying through RDU peaked over the 4th of July holiday weekend at approximately 26% of 2019 passenger traffic and then leveled off for four weeks until beginning of August, when traffic saw a modest bump. Reduced air fares may be responsible for more people flying during the summer months. Experts predict leisure travel demand will decline with the start of the school year.
Airlines continue to make near-term adjustments to their schedules, with Southwest cutting an additional 40% of its September flights at RDU and dropping its nonstop routes to Las Vegas (LAS) and Houston (HOU).
RDU will continue to monitor airline data and trends, and report meaningful findings and insights on this page as pandemic related travel impacts continue.
Nonstop destinations continue to return to RDU despite a flattening of passenger traffic. Four nonstop destinations will return to RDU in August:
Austin (AUS) – daily service on Southwest beginning Aug. 11
Cleveland (CLE) – Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays on Frontier beginning Aug. 1
Houston (HOU) – daily service on Southwest beginning Aug. 11
Salt Lake City (SLC) – daily Delta service beginning Aug. 1
The return of nonstop service to these destinations brings the number of nonstop flights at RDU to 31, up from 27 in July 2020. RDU had 57 nonstop destinations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
TSA screened 39,622 total passengers for the week ending July 19, down 76% compared to the same week in 2019. The number of screened passengers was down 3% from the previous week. Airlines continue to make adjustments to their schedules at RDU based on near-term customer demand. The number of seats available in July was down 65% compared to July 2019. Traffic is expected to remain flat or decline slightly as leisure travel drops off in August and September.
*Edited Aug.3 to provide updated nonstop destinations.
RDU experienced a spike in traffic over Independence Day weekend, consistent with national trends. TSA screened a total of 36,267 passengers for the week ending July 4, which was 74.0% below the same period in 2019. This was the busiest week at the airport since mid-March and the 11th straight week of passenger growth for RDU.
Industry experts predict passenger growth may level off as we approach the end of summer. Government mandated quarantine for travelers from states with rising COVID-19 cases could reduce passenger travel. The number of people traveling may continue to decline into the fall based on U.S. polices and inbound international travel restrictions.
Airlines continue to make near-term adjustments to their schedules based on travel demand. RDU will release the total passenger traffic for June at the July 16 board meeting.