RDU gains another nonstop flight to Europe and another big plane at its gates

Thursday was a banner day at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, as large wide-body jets arrived from three cities in Europe: London, Paris and, for the first time, Frankfurt, Germany.

Lufthansa’s inaugural flight to RDU was greeted with a traditional water-cannon salute as the Airbus A-330 taxied to the terminal. Several dozen local dignitaries and employees of the airport and the airline were escorted to the tarmac, where they took photos and selfies as the plane pulled to the gate.

Inside, more than 250 passengers waiting to board were treated to pieces of German chocolate cake as Lufthansa and RDU executives cut a ribbon and spoke to the media.

Michael Landguth, RDU’s president and CEO, said he’d been trying to lure Lufthansa to the Triangle for more than a decade and that the airline’s arrival comes as the airport is handling record numbers of passengers.

“The true measure of success is a full airplane,” Landguth told the crowd. “Well, guess what, ladies and gentleman, that plane is 100% full coming out of RDU today.”

The first direct Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany lands at the Raleigh Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.
The first direct Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany lands at the Raleigh Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.

RDU a top seller for Lufthansa

Demand for tickets also has been strong beyond the first day, said Dirk Janzen, Lufthansa’s vice president for sales in the Americas. The company is launching several new flights from the U.S. this year, increasing capacity 11%, and RDU has been one of the top sellers, Janzen said.

“We’re confident and actually very excited about it,” he said in an interview.

Most people buying tickets on Lufthansa’s RDU flight are making connections from the airline’s hub in Frankfurt to any one of 300 cities in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia on Lufthansa or one of its subsidiary airlines.

Sahar Meselhy and her three children from Cary were traveling to Cairo, Egypt, via Frankfurt on Thursday. Meselhy has flown to Cairo several times and said the new Lufthansa flight is the shortest and easiest connection she’s ever had.

“We are so happy to go from RDU to Frankfurt,” she said.

The Triangle’s growing South Asian population has been lobbying for a direct flight from RDU to India. Satish Garimella, a member of the Morrisville town council who grew up in India, said he thinks the Lufthansa flight may be better.

“This one gives you more flexibility, because it goes to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt you can go to several parts of India and also the rest of the world,” Garimella said. “I’m super excited. This is a dream come true.”

Lufthansa employees take a selfie as the airline’s first flight from Frankfurt, Germany, arrives at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.
Lufthansa employees take a selfie as the airline’s first flight from Frankfurt, Germany, arrives at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.

With the arrival of Lufthansa, Triangle travelers can now fly nonstop to four places in Europe, including London on American Airlines, Paris on Air France and Reykjavik on Icelandair.

While those other airlines are flying daily from RDU, Lufthansa initially will not fly Sundays and Wednesdays. Janzen said more frequent service would depend on demand and the availability of aircraft.

What attracted Lufthansa to RDU

By July, RDU will offer nonstop flights to 10 international destinations, including Panama City and Mexico City. Persuading airlines to offer that service at a non-hub airport takes some salesmanship and, often, financial incentives, including marketing support and waived fees. State lawmakers sweetened the offer to Lufthansa by providing $3 million.

But Janzen said what made the difference was the “passion and the support that we felt from the local community.

“Obviously the area is growing,” he said. “You have strong businesses here. You have strong leisure demand from both sides, from Europe and from here. And you have the famous Triangle. You have all the great universities here. So that combined convinced us that the demand is there.”

An American and German flag are waved out the window of the first Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.
An American and German flag are waved out the window of the first Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.

About those wide-body planes. RDU’s Terminal 2 can accommodate them only at the ends of the two concourses, two at each end. At the same time, international flights must arrive at the end of Concourse C, where passengers follow a walkway to Customs and Border Protection.

So RDU must do some shuffling to handle three international wide-body flights at a time.

American arrives first from London’s Heathrow Airport, unloads its passenger at the end of Concourse C and now taxis to the other end of Concourse D where outgoing passengers can get on. That frees up space for the Lufthansa and Air France flights that arrive a little later in the afternoon.

People gather to document and celebrate the arrival of the first direct Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Raleigh Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.
People gather to document and celebrate the arrival of the first direct Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Raleigh Durham International Airport on June 6, 2024.