Should you fly? Will you fly?

The regional business community is committed to the continued prosperity of our region — and that means we are always looking for ways to ensure and advance the success of RDU International.

Our organization’s top overall priority continues to be sustainable funding for the airport. Several of RDU’s infrastructure projects can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost of the projects and the duration of studies and approvals required makes planning and capital development in a volatile funding environment extremely challenging. Based on life in America since March 2020, it is increasingly clear that funding for RDU needs to be more independent of month-to-month or annual variations in air travel.

However, this post is not about funding.

This week’s blog is about you, me, and the broader community — about whether we should fly, and whether we will fly, at least in the near term.

The answer will vary by individual, company, and timing. In addition, the answer to those two questions may be different for the same individual or company.

Should you fly? From a safety standpoint, if you are looking for a 100% absolutely risk-free environment, you can’t get that from flying, or from any other aspect of life.  That having been said, my sense is that the active ventilation system of an aircraft cabin gives rise to one of the better indoor air environments you can possibly have, given the ongoing circulation with outside air, the vertical air flow, and the level of filtration.

While “outside” is inherently safer than “inside” when it comes to coronavirus, the reality is that the airlines are “bringing the outside in” every few minutes when flying.  By comparison, this may or may not be the case in various indoor environments, as that depends on the presence and setting of “make-up” air units in those buildings. To that point, there are some indications are that flying may be safer than grocery shopping, and that aircraft cabin air could be better than that in some office environments or even private homes. There is also the new requirement of facial coverings, given the duration of air travel trips and the proximity of adjacent passengers within the cabin. RDU continues to provide excellent information on safety protocols at the airport.

Will you fly? In the short-term, that likely depends on whether you are willing to accept the real or perceived risk of flying. As the months progress, it will also depend on the substitutability of the trip by various online meeting products, regardless of your comfort level with air travel. After speaking with several of our members during our retreat and other activities this year, our sense is that when it comes to business travel, some trips that previously would have gone by air will continue to be forgone indefinitely, even with a vaccine in place, with reasons ranging from time, cost, opportunity cost, and environmental sustainability. However, the key word is “some” — you cannot completely replace the connection of real life, face-to-face meetings, and air travel is essential for many of those important business conversations. 

On the other hand, my sense is that leisure travel is likely different, and will continue to be faster to recover. Once the safety issue gets resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction, leisure travel should return to previous levels, as long as the economics work for both the industry and the traveler. “I’ll be on a two hour online meeting for the holidays” is no one’s idea of a favorite seasonal carol, and in-person is simply irreplaceable in terms of a quality experience with family and friends any time of year.

RTA is not encouraging or discouraging people to travel –– those are individual choices. However, we would like our members to get information from a variety of sources and make their own decisions about air travel, recognizing that those decisions may vary as we get more information and as our own circumstances and perspectives change.

What RTA will do is to continue to speak to the essential need for a successful airport, and that means a reliable funding stream for RDU. More to come on that.

Let’s get moving,


Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director

RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation


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