Complete Guide to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)

As a big time world-traveler who has visited 50+ countries and flown a lot within the USA, I’ve experienced many airports of varying sizes and now that we live in Raleigh permanently, I’ve become a big fan of our local Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and my following guide will help make your flying experience as seamless as possible.

Lady walking through airport pushing a suitcase.
Arriving at RDU to check-in

We’ve been flying in and out of Raleigh-Durham Airport since 2004 and its typically a pleasing experience compared to most other bigger and more chaotic airports across the US. The whole process of getting to RDU, finding parking, to check-in, to getting through security and to our boarding gates is generally smooth and stress-free. 

Plane parked at a gate at an airport
One of our flights at Terminal 2

Even though our local airport is not a major hub like Atlanta or Dallas, when we want to get away, we can pretty much fly anywhere easily enough – flight options have improved a ton since 2004 and they continue to add flights to exciting destinations! 

The airport has undergone significant renovations and upgrades in recent years with exciting plans in the works, and this has made the airport more comfortable and convenient for travelers.

About Raleigh Durham International Airport

Lady riding an escalator looking at a sign that says Raleigh.
Welcome sign to RDU

Quick Facts:

  • Location: Wake County, North Carolina
    • 11 miles northwest of Raleigh
    • 10.5 miles southeast of Durham
    • 17 miles east-southeast of Chapel Hill
  • Code: RDU
  • Flights: More than 600 daily arrivals and departures
  • Non-stop Destinations: 44 domestic, 7 international
  • Airlines: 10 major airlines
  • Terminals: 1 and 2

Officially known as Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), the airport is located exactly halfway between the cities of Raleigh and Durham, about a 20-25 minute drive from downtown Raleigh and downtown Durham.

Map showing location of an airport
Location of RDU Airport

In case you don’t know, “Raleigh-Durham” isn’t an actual place, Raleigh and Durham are two individual cities and the locals from each city tend to get upset if you refer to Raleigh as Raleigh-Durham and vice versa, in a fun kind of way! It’s just the name of the airport that is strategically located midway between them. 

RDU is the main airport that serves not only Raleigh and Durham, but also nearby Chapel Hill and those three cities make up what’s known as the Triangle Area – the name comes from the shape formed by connecting these three cities on a map. 

Lady walking through an airport
Main airport for the Triangle Region

It’s also the main airport serving central and eastern North Carolina, and southern Virginia, and is known for its modern facilities and has won several awards for its sustainability initiatives and commitment to reducing its environmental impact.

RDU is home to both major and regional air carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue Airways, with more than 350 daily, non-stop flights to more than 40 destinations.

Is RDU an International Airport?

raleigh durham international airport 11
7 international flights from RDU

I was shocked recently when some locals stated that they didn’t know that RDU is an international airport, even though the official name has “International” in it.

And with the number of RDU flights increasing over the years as this region continues to grow, as a world traveler who has visited 50+ countries I’m excited about more routes opening up in the future. We loved flying to London in 2022, and this year we head to Paris and Italy for the summer!

Currently there are 7 non-stop RDU international flights to these destinations:

  • London
  • Paris
  • Cancun
  • Montreal
  • Toronto
  • Freeport (Bahamas)
  • Reykjavik (Iceland

Domestic non-stop destinations currently include:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Baltimore-Washington
  • Boston
  • Charlotte
  • Chicago-Midway
  • Chicago-O’hare
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland
  • Dallas-Fort-Worth
  • Dallas-Love-Field
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Fort Myers
  • Hartford
  • Houston-Rush
  • Houston-Hobby
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • Nashville
  • Newhaven
  • New Orleans
  • New York-JFK
  • New York-LaGuardia
Plane taking off at airport
  • Newark
  • Orlando
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • Pittsburgh
  • Providence
  • Salt Lake City
  • San Francisco
  • San Juan
  • Sarasota
  • Seattle
  • St. Louis
  • Tampa
  • Trenton
  • Washington-Dulles
  • Washington-Reagan
  • West Palm Beach

Is RDU considered a big airport?

People walking through an airport terminal

Raleigh Durham Airport is the second largest in North Carolina and second busiest behind Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and nationally would be considered a mid-sized airport. 

It has three runways, two terminals, and offers non-stop flights to over 50 domestic and international destinations. 

Because RDU is not as large as some of the major airports such as Atlanta or Los Angeles it’s easier to navigate and less overwhelming for travelers.

raleigh durham international airport 9
Easy to navigate

Considering more than half of the US population lives within a day’s drive or an hour’s flight of RDU, and that Wake County is growing by 60+ residents per day, it ranks as one of the nation’s fastest-growing airports!

Overall, the airport is nicely laid out, very clean and orderly, and it’s no surprise to me that RDU consistently ranks among one of the most efficient airports in America.

Getting to, and from RDU International Airport

raleigh durham international airport 2
Several major roads serve RDU

RDU Airport is conveniently located between Raleigh and Durham which makes it easily accessible to both cities, plus being located near several major highways makes it easy to get to from other parts of North Carolina.

Interstate 40 which starts in Wilmington, NC and goes all the way to California passes close by to Raleigh-Durham Airport, as does Interstate 540 and Highway 70 making it easy to get to by car from downtown Raleigh, Durham or further afield in North Carolina.

Lady standing with travel luggage waiting for an UBER
Waiting for our Uber
  • Hotel ShuttlesThese hotels from across the area provide shuttle service to and from the airport.
  • Uber & Lyft – are authorized to operate from RDU, and those rideshare drivers pick up passengers from the prearranged services area that is easy to find from baggage claim: zone one at Terminal 1, and zone 8 at Terminal 2
  • Buses – The GoTriangle bus Route 100 provides public bus service from RDU to its Regional Transit Center, where riders can connect to bus routes throughout the region.
  • TaxisRDU Taxi is the only authorized taxi service from RDU. Taxis are available on the terminal curbs for all arriving flights, or you can make a reservation by calling (919) 840-7277.
  • Rental Cars – All the major rental car companies offer courtesy shuttles to their offices, which are located on airport property. Catch the shuttle bus for your rental car company at the green Rental Car shuttle stops outside bag claim at Zone 4 in Terminal 1, and Zone 5 in Terminal 2.
  • Trains – there are no direct train services that operate from RDU, but there are rail stations located in Raleigh, Durham and Cary you can connect to. 

Hours of Operation

  • Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Most ticket counters open at about 4:30 a.m. 
  • The security checkpoint opens at 4 a.m. in both terminals. 
  • Many of The Shops of RDU are open 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. The Starbucks located at pre-security in Terminal 2 is open 24/7, 365 days per year.

How many terminals does Raleigh Durham Airport have?

Lady walking into the entrance of an airport

Raleigh Airport has two terminals, T1 and T2, and in total has three runways and 45 gates.

Terminal 1

Airlines that currently operate out of Terminal 1 include:

  • Avelo
  • Southwest
  • Spirit

Terminal 2

Airlines that currently operate out of Terminal 2 include:

  • Air Canada
  • Alaska
  • Allegiant
  • American
  • Bahamasair
  • Breeze
  • Delta
  • Frontier
  • Icelandair
  • Jetblue
  • Sun Country
  • United

Terminal 2 is much larger, more modern, and has considerably more dining and shopping options. 

Tips for Flying from RDU Airport

How early should I arrive at Raleigh-Durham Airport

Man arriving at an airport

For domestic flights, you should arrive at least two hours prior to departure. For international flights you should arrive at least three hours prior to departure.

Most airlines begin boarding 30-45 minutes before departure. You need to allow time for:

  • Driving to the airport and any potential traffic delays
  • Finding your parking spot
  • Getting from parking to the terminal
  • Complete the airline check-in 
  • Getting through the security screening process
  • Getting to your departure gate
raleigh durham international airport 7
Arrive early so you can relax

HOT TIP – one of our top recommendations for stress-free travel is to arrive at the airport early. I’d much rather know I’m there and have time to grab a coffee, walk around and check-out some stores, maybe get a bite to eat than be rushing through security and running to my gate in a state of panic!

You don’t want to start off a dream trip all stressed and potentially miss your flight that you have planned and saved up for many months in advance!

What are peak travel times at RDU?

Lady walking through airport

As mentioned, we have never had any real delays at Raleigh Durham Airport, but keep in mind the time of the day, the day of the week, the time of the year, and any weather issues when you are flying. 

If you are traveling during busy holiday periods like Thanksgiving or Christmas it will be much more chaotic so factor that in!

Peak travel times at RDU are typically from 5-7am, mid-day and from 4-7pm. This is when the highest number of passengers make their way through the TSA checkpoints. Generally, most passengers wait less than 30-minutes for security checkpoint screening. But this can vary.

Check-in and Bag Drop

Lady at check-in counter at airport

Airline ticket counters generally open at 4am, and most airlines cut off check-in and bag drop 30-45 minutes prior to departure. But always check with your airline for specific rules and times!

Bag Curbside check-in is available through skycap services for domestic flights on select airlines. Again, contact your specific airline for its up-to-date policy on carry-ons and checked baggage, including size and weight limits.

Tips for stress-free travel at RDU Airport

Person checking in at a kiosk at an airport
Check-in online at home
  • Check-in online at home and you get your boarding pass on your phone so you can go straight to bag drop
  • Pack carry-on only, especially if you have connecting flights, and if you’ve checked-in online you can go straight to the security checkpoint.
  • Book the earliest flight. This reduces the impact of the domino effect, especially if you’re connecting and things go wrong like weather delays!
  • Slip on shoes, comfy pants (no belt if possible), cross body bag for easy access to documents. 
  • Download your airlines app to get updated flight notifications
  • Watch our video.

Security Checkpoint

Man walking through airport

The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screens all passengers and luggage at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The TSA Security Checkpoint opens at 4:30am.

Like all airports, travel through the security checkpoint is limited to ticketed passengers. Airlines may grant a gate pass for one person to accompany a minor child or passenger needing assistance to the gate area.

TSA PreCheck

Man walking through airport security

RDU has dedicated TSA PreCheck lanes at both of their security checkpoints at Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.. You can check the official TSA website for opening hours at any airport as they can vary.

If you haven’t already enrolled in TSA PreCheck, you can enroll online or enroll at a service center near you

Does RDU have CLEAR?

rdu international airport 6

Yes, RDU does have CLEAR in Terminals 1 and 2. Look for the kiosks pre-security in the ticketing area.

Not familiar with CLEAR? This verification service helps you get through security faster by allowing you to verify who you are with your eyes or fingerprint instead of waiting to show government issued photo I.D. You can sign up online

Global Entry

Global Entry is a U.S. program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. And yes, RDU has Global Entry kiosks for travelers arriving from international flights. Learn more.

Can you walk between terminals at RDU?

Woman walking through an airport with luggage
5-minute walk between terminals

Another thing we love about Raleigh-Durham International Airport is that getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 involves an easy 5-minute walk and there’s a people mover. 

Free shuttle bus service is also available for passengers going from one terminal to the other. From Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, take the Lot 3 bus and from Terminal 2 to Terminal 2, take the Lot 4 bus.

Parking at RDU

Hand holding a phone with a scanned bar code
Pay online 24 hours in advance

There are four main RDU parking options including long-term and short-term parking. 

Note: cash is no longer accepted for RDU Airport Parking facilities. All major credit cards are accepted at drive-up pay stations and pay-on-foot self-service kiosks. If you don’t have a card, use one of the ReadySTATION® kiosks available in Terminal and Terminal 2.

ParkRDU Premier

Premier features dedicated spaces in a covered area for those wanting the ultimate ease and convenience. 

  • Located on the ground level of the main parking garage 
  • Direct access to both terminals.
  • Covered spaces
  • Rate: $7.50 each hour (or part thereof) up to four hours, then $30 daily maximum

ParkRDU Central

Lady walking with suitcase from an airport carpark
Easy access to both terminals

Central has more than 10,000 spaces with a short walk to both terminals. Conveniently located in the main parking garage between Terminals 1 and 2.

  • Short walk to terminals
  • Covered & outdoor spaces
  • Rate: $5.00 each hour (or part thereof) up to four hours, then $20 daily maximum
  • Get directions.

Economy 3 and 4

There are two Economy lots just a short and free shuttle bus ride away from the terminals. This is the best choice for low-cost on-airport long term parking.

  • Rate: $3/hour or $12/day
  • Easy access from U.S. 70 and I-40
  • Free 24/7 shuttle service every 20 minutes
  • Directions to lot 3. Directions to lot 4.

Handicapped Parking

Handicapped parking spaces are provided in the Park Premier facility and on all floors of the Park Central parking garage in close proximity to the elevators. The economy facilities also offer handicapped parking spaces located next to the bus shelters. 

Free Shuttle

Lady catching a bus with suitcase
Free shuttle from lots 3 & 4

The RDU airport shuttle is free from economy lots 3 and 4 and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week on an 11-minute frequency. 

  • Lot 3 shuttle takes approximately 7 minutes to arrive at Terminal 1 and 10 minutes for Terminal 2. 
  • Lot 4 shuttle takes approximately 5 minutes to arrive at Terminal 2 and 10 minutes for Terminal 1.
  • All shuttles stop at both terminals during their routes. 
  • Download the free TransLoc mobile app (App Store, Google Play) to find the next arriving shuttle with real-time map updates. 

HOT TIP: book parking online at least 24 hours in advance at for a discount and guaranteed entry into the parking lot of your choice!

Eating & Drinking at RDU Airport

People sitting at a cafe inside an airport
La Farm Bakery is popular

Another reason we enjoy flying from our local Raleigh Durham International Airport is the number of local food outlets on offer, especially in Terminal 2.

We have flown a lot throughout the U.S. and many airports are just terrible with endless chains and fast food restaurants.

Take note that there is one Starbucks pre-security clearance area in Terminal 2, but the rest of the dining options are post-security. For local dining at RDU consider:

La Farm Bakery + Café (T2)

If you love a good artisanal bakery, this is North Carolina’s beloved French style bakery offering everything from croissants to scones, crusty sourdough, pastries, sandwiches, burgers and café dishes from their French bistro menu.

All-day breakfast is available and their most popular dish is the Croque Madame. Sit and relax, or grab something to take to your gate! 

getREEF Virtual Food Hall (T2)

Man walking through an airport

This is a cool new concept and way to support local vendors that might be coming to other airports near you soon. Simply order using the mobile tablet touch screen, your food is prepared and you receive a text with a code to unlock the locker, or get it delivered to your gate.

Everything from burgers to salads to wings and one of our favorite local coffee providers, Beyu Caffe from Durham. It’s quick, easy and mobile-first.

Raleigh Taproom (T2)

Raleigh Brewing is a popular local spot for a beer and a burger around Wake County and you can get a taste of what they have to offer at RDU. 

A full bar and robust menu offering something for everyone from breakfast through dinner. We enjoyed a good meal here before our flight to London last year! 

Whisky River (T2)

Another North Carolinian drink and food outlet that has an Old West feel. Stop in for a big country breakfast or buffalo omelet and a classic mimosa. 

Or how about a Buffalo chopped salad or roasted chicken for dinner? Full bar with cocktails, spirits, wines and local craft beer.

Char-Grill (T1)

Burger with a car in a photo behind it

It doesn’t get more Raleigh than local burger favorite, Char-Grill, for their burgers, shakes and fries. A landmark in downtown Raleigh that is ever popular in Terminal 1.

They also have a breakfast menu with delicious breakfast sandwiches, and beer selections. Grab a burger and sit by the window and watch all the action out on the ramp.

Man eating a burger at airport looking at a plane
View from Char-Grill

All up there are over 15 dining options at RDU with something for everyone pre or post flight.

Stay tuned as star local chef Scott Crawford from Crawford & Son has a highly anticipated opening for Crawford’s Genuine in Terminal 2 in late 2023, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus to-go options.

And, Black & White Coffee, one of our favorite coffee shops in Raleigh is also opening in Terminal 2. 

New Food Concepts Coming Soon…

RDU continues to overhaul their dining and beverage offerings, so stay tuned for 10 just-announced concepts coming in late 2024:

  • Butcher’s Burger & Bar
  • Bond Brothers Taproom & Kitchen
  • Bongiorno and Son
  • Conniption Cocktail Bar
  • Half Moon Empanadas
  • Guy’s Pizza Joint by Guy Fieri
  • Lonerider Brewery
  • Raleigh Beer Garden

Shops at RDU 

Woman walking into a shop
Good local products at Root & Branch

There are countless shops to grab anything you might need before you take to the skies like tech gear, books to read, souvenirs, gifts, travel accessories, duty free, you name it.

One of our favorite stores is Root & Branch in Terminal 2 who was inspired by public markets and offers a wide range of local, regional and national brand products. See full list of shops here and watch our video.

Wi-Fi and Charging Points

Lady working on a laptop in an airport
We like to get work done before flying

As someone who runs an online-business and gets to the airport early, I’m always on the lookout for charging stations and appreciate free WiFi, and RDU Airport does a pretty good job of this.

You can access free Wi-Fi in all public areas, including gates and baggage claim, and other WiFi services may be available in lounges, restaurants, bars and retail locations. To use the airport WiFi select “RDU Free WiFi.”

As for charging points, select seats at various gates around the airport have charging points for your phones and laptops etc. 

Lounges at RDU International Airport

If you have status to access airport lounges, the following are located at RDU International Airport.

  • American Airlines Admirals Club – Terminal 2, across from Gate C3. Hours: daily from 4:30am-8pm
  • Delta Air Lines Sky Club –  Terminal 2, across from Gate C3. Hours: Sunday-Friday, 4:30am–7:45pm. Saturday: 4:30am-7pm.
  • United Club – Terminal 2, across from Gates D1 & D3. Hours: Daily: 5am to 7:30pm.

Hotels Near RDU Airport

If you are looking for the best hotels near Raleigh Airport for either business or leisure travel, we’ve done the research for you! 

Here are 10 hotels near Raleigh airport, and if you’re heading into the city, here are 7 of the best downtown Raleigh hotels to consider when you visit Raleigh

Directions to Raleigh-Durham Airport

Woman entering an airport

From downtown Raleigh:

  1. Head west on W Edenton St toward S McDowell St.
  2. Turn right onto S Dawson St.
  3. Turn left onto Western Blvd.
  4. Merge onto I-40 W via the ramp on the left toward Durham.
  5. Take exit 284-A for Airport Boulevard toward RDU International Airport.
  6. Keep left at the fork, follow signs for RDU International Airport and merge onto Airport Blvd.
  7. Follow signs for your airline terminal and parking.

This drive should take approximately 20-25 minutes, depending on the day of week and traffic.

From downtown Durham:

  1. Head east on West Main Street toward North Market Street.
  2. Turn left onto North Duke Street.
  3. After a mile, turn right onto East Club Boulevard.
  4. Continue straight onto S Alston Avenue for about 3 miles.
  5. Merge onto NC-147 S toward Research Triangle Park/Raleigh.
  6. Stay on NC-147 S for approximately 6 miles.
  7. Take the exit onto I-40 E toward Raleigh.
  8. After 4 miles, take Exit 284A for Airport Boulevard.
  9. Merge onto Airport Boulevard and continue for about 2 miles.
  10. Follow signs to the airport terminal.

Again, this drive should take approximately 20-25 minutes, depending on the day of week and traffic.

If you have any questions, comments or tips of your own about Raleigh-Durham International Airport, please share them below in the comments section! 

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2 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)”

  1. A quick question: we will be at an event at the Hyatt Place Durham/Southport hotel on a Sunday. Our United flight leaves at 5:35 pm. If we catch a cab at 3:30, do you think we would be okay with getting through security and catching our flight in time? It seems like a pretty small airport, but I don’t know if I should plan on slow security times. We do have TSA precheck.

    1. Hi Jane. So that hotel looks to be about a 15-min drive to the airport, so without any traffic delays or issues puts you at RDU by 3:45. RDU is “usually” pretty good getting through security and it is not a huge airport. You “should” be ok but I don’t know what day you are flying as congestion can change daily, and you know how the airline industry has been recently. Unless it’s an urgent event you have to fly to and cannot miss your flight under any circumstances, I would probably do the same as you!

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