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RDU Attracts More Travelers, Smaller Airports Lose Business

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RDU INTERNATIONAL — The cheaper fares atRDUare attracting travelers from all over North Carolina, but not everyone is happy with the low costs. Smaller, regional airports are losing business.

Monday was recognition day forSouthwest Airlines, the nation's fourth largest airline known for its service and low fares.

Those low fares have driven down ticket prices at other airlines, and travelers are taking advantage of them, no matter where they live.

Bruce Blankenmeyer came from Virginia Monday for a business trip.

"We have to watch how much we spend on air fares, and this is about half of what it would normally cost me to go to Birmingham," said Blankenmeyer.

RDU is soaking up travelers from surrounding airports.Rocky Mount-Wilson Airportis served byU.S. Airways Express. To fly round-trip from there to Nashville on U.S. Airways this Thursday would cost $523 with a stop in Charlotte.

Drive to RDU and fly Southwest non-stop, round-trip for $202. There is a lot of pressure on smaller, eastern North Carolina airports to compete.

Donna Wade's family drove from Kinston. "I think it's going to give them a lot of competition, so I mean here is a lot better to go out of," said Wade.

As Southwest takes off from RDU, smaller airports could be left only with commuter service.

"There's a possibility that this airport could become even a larger connecting airport, and it could give them service from their airport to RDU," said Bob Winston of the RDU Airport Authority.

Signs of growth are everywhere at RDU. New traffic lanes open this week in front of Terminal A, the new home of Southwest.

Next month, Park and Ride Parking Lot 4 will be paved to make way for travelers who drive to RDU to fly.