The Fives: Airlines That Belong To History

American. Delta. Southwest. United. These are the biggest airlines serving RDU today, but it hasn’t always been this way. Over the course of time, many other carriers have come and gone. In this edition of “The Fives,” we’re going to look back through time at some of the carriers that have gone the way of history. 

Eastern Airlines

Eastern Airlines

1. Eastern Airlines. In many ways, Eastern Airlines can be credited with helping RDU become the airport it is today.

In 1940, Eastern’s President, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, took out a full-page ad in area newspapers imploring local governments to set-aside local differences and work together to build the airport that is now RDU.

It worked. In 1943 the airline began service to New York and Miami, with many interim stops. The airline continued flying at RDU until about 1990.

Midway Airlines

Midway Airlines

2. Midway Airlines. Do you remember the days of Midway Airlines at RDU? The airline began flying out of RDU in 1995, making the airport its primary hub.

Midway, with its signature blue-and-yellow-tailed aircraft, was a popular travel choice for many Triangle-residents.

It offered dozens of non-stop destinations along the East Coast and beyond, and many travelers enjoyed connections through RDU’s now-demolished Terminal C. Midway ceased operations just days after Sept. 11, 2001 and returned briefly in 2002.

My beautiful picture3. Piedmont Airlines. RDU’s third airline following Eastern and Capital, Piedmont Airlines began serving RDU in 1948.

By 1989, it had 23 daily departures to destinations such as Charlotte, Washington-National, Baltimore-Washington and Newark.

The airline also operated numerous other flights to places such as Asheville and Greenville under its’ Piedmont Commuter brand. The airline merged with US Air in 1989.

America West Airlines

America West Airlines

4. America West Airlines. In the summer of 2001, I was a college intern at RDU when I was tasked with picking up one of the chief executives of America West Airlines from Terminal A.

My job was to bring him to our administration building for the official media announcement that America West was coming to RDU.

The events of September 11 caused the airline to delay its start until 2002, but it operated daily flights to Phoenix and Las Vegas until it merged with U.S. Airways in the mid-2000’s.



5. ExpressJet. You may very well fly ExpressJet the next time you take off from RDU, as the carrier today operates as a regional airline flying passengers for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express.

The company also operates a number of charter flights for sports teams and businesses.

In 2007, though, the airline began a popular, but short-lived service of non-stop flights under its own name to places such as Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans and San Antonio. It ended non-stop flights after the economic downturn in 2008.

Do you have another favorite airline that once flew from RDU? Let me know in the comments below!

About Andrew Sawyer

Andrew Sawyer is the External Communication Specialist for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority and is the main writer for RDU’s website, electronic communication and airport publications. He’s also the primary face behind RDU’s social media channels. Andrew also assists with many other things, from media relations to event planning. In fact, he has an advanced degree in "other duties as assigned."
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9 Responses to The Fives: Airlines That Belong To History

  1. Rich Murray says:

    I remember when I was a kid in the ’70s practically all of the flights coming into RDU seemed to be Eastern or Piedmont, with an occasional Delta plane. Eastern was the first airline I ever flew as a child — they were the official airline of Walt Disney World back in the ’70s and I remember they’d give children Disney World coloring books, etc to keep them busy on the plane (and of course playing cards and captain’s wings!). They used to call some of their planes Whisperliners or Whisperjets because it was supposed to be so quiet in the cabin — of course by today’s standards those old 727s, DC-9s, and L-1011s would be considered deafening. We’d go to the observation deck on top of the old Terminal B and you’d have to wait FOREVER for a single plane to take off or land. Things have changed a bit!

    I always liked Piedmont, and my first trip overseas was a Piedmont flight via CLT to London Gatwick. It seemed like a big deal at the time that you could fly from London to li’l ol’ Charlotte. This was, of course, long before American’s flights from RDU to Gatwick and then Heathrow.

    I also remember Canadian Airlines fondly. I believe they — or their regional affiliate — actually had RDU-Toronto service before Air Canada did. I flew Canadian to YYZ a bunch of times before they got acquired by Air Canada. Their final livery had a beautiful stylized Canada goose along the fuselage.

    My dad used to fly Wheeler Airlines from RDU to Asheville all the time on tiny little prop planes. He says if you were in the front row you were practically in the pilot’s lap.

    Ahh, RDU nostalgia!

  2. Nick W. says:

    Independence Air was another short lived carrier.

  3. William G. Marley, III says:

    Don’t forget about Northwest, TWA, Pan Am, People Express, Ozark, and New York Air. All had regularly scheduled service to and from RDU at one time or another.

  4. Brian says:

    Don’t forget New York Air, which made RDU a hub! They used to serve snacks they referred to as “nosh”, which was still a foreign word for the area in the early 1980’s. Oh yes, As William Marley says there were several others! I graduated from Athens Drive High School with a woman who went on to fly with Pan Am, by the way.

  5. fibercut says:

    Air South, Corporate, Continental, ValuJet.

  6. Ethan Qualle says:

    Midwest!!!! Loved them!!!

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