Take Offs & Land­ings

This en­ergy cap­i­tal’s two aero­dromes could be called com­ple­men­tar­ily com­pet­i­tive

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE EVERY ISSUE - By Jerome Greer Chan­dler

Hous­ton’s air­ports are com­pli­men­ta­r­ily com­pet­i­tive. DFW and Amer­i­can un­veil Phase One of TRIP re­vamp and add self­tag­ging in Ter­mi­nal A. LAX T5 to see ma­jor over­haul. United an­nounces new con­ces­sions at IAH Ter­mi­nal B. Plus new con­nec­tion news.

The trans­bor­der skyscape down in the Bayou City is about to change. Hereto­fore, close-in Hobby Air­port has been a do­mes­tic aero­drome, with South­west its prime player. Now that the Hous­ton City Coun­cil has voted to OK five new in­ter­na­tional gates cou­pled with a new $100 mil­lion Fed­eral In­spec­tion Sta­tion at HOU, the com­pet­i­tive mix down in the Bayou City may be about to change.

In the wake of the move, United – which ab­sorbed Con­ti­nen­tal’s for­mi­da­ble hub at Hous­ton’s Ge­orge Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal – said it might cut as much as ten per­cent of its flights at IAH. Un­der­stand that In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal is this coun­try’s prime launch pad for flights to Mex­ico. Be­tween them, United and United Ex­press pen­e­trate far into the coun­try, fly­ing to Mex­i­can busi­ness cen­ters such as Leon in the state of Gua­na­ju­ato.

A 2012 study by CAPA, the Cen­tre for Avi­a­tion, projects South­west would launch a dozen Latin Amer­i­can routes from HOU be­gin­ning in 2015. Among them could be Mex­i­can cities such as Can­cun, Guadalajara, Mex­ico City and the in­dus­trial pow­er­house of Mon­ter­rey. United serves each of those routes from IAH.

Still, in­dus­try ob­servers don’t en­vi­sion much route over­lap.“I don’t see a lot of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the two air­ports,” says avi­a­tion an­a­lyst Josh Marks. “South­west is likely to be fly­ing out of Hobby to Can­cun [and] other va­ca­tion mar­kets that are com­pat­i­ble with their leisure traf­fic.”He en­vi­sions noth­ing re­motely“close to the scope and breadth of what United of­fers out of Ge­orge Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port.”

Time will tell. What’s sure though is that Hobby Air­port, once a dowdy 1950ish af­ter­thought of an air­port, is now as­cen­dant.

Hand­some Hobby

Largely thanks to South­west, Hobby is the 37th busiest air­port in the coun­try ac­cord­ing to Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional - North Amer­ica. A mere ten miles south of down­town Hous­ton, as op­posed to In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal’s more dis­tant 23 miles to the north, HOU has un­der­gone a re­nais­sance over the past few years. The nar­row, claus­tro­pho­bic con­courses of an ear­lier era have given way to one mas­sive, sun­lit air­side ter­mi­nal. The Hous­ton Air­ports Sys­tem says HOU fields non­stop or di­rect ser­vice to some 35 des­ti­na­tions in the United States.

Lim­it­ing the scope of just how far flights can fly in­ter­na­tion­ally from HOU is the length of its long­est run­way. It’s a com­par­a­tively short 7,602 feet. By con­trast, In­ter­con­tien­tal’s long­est strip is over 12,000 feet. In the grand scheme of things, most ob­servers be­lieve Hobby will re­main fun­da­men­tally a do­mes­tic aero­drome, leav­ing to larger, more re­mote Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal the job of loft­ing flights to places like Dubai and Tokyo.

In­dica­tive of the type of flights that works well at HOU is JetBlue’s new Bos­ton – Hous­ton Hobby ser­vice. It’s set to take wing July 25. There will be a pair of daily de­par­tures in each di­rec­tion.

Re­flec­tive of South­west’s dom­i­nance, HOU doesn’t have an air­port club. It does have free WiFi, and plenty of raised work­ta­bles with pow­er­ports ar­rayed along the air­side con­course.

Eater­ies are abun­dant enough, both pre­and post-se­cu­rity. One fa­vorite is Pappa’s Bar-B-Que. Pappa’s lets you chow down be­fore clear­ing se­cu­rity.

What’s not abun­dant enough any­where in the Bayou City is light rail. There’s a sys­tem, but it con­nects to nei­ther Hobby nor In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal. A taxi from HOU to down­town will run $26 or $27, de­pend­ing on time of day. The tab to the Med­i­cal Cen­ter is $32 or $33. If you’re headed to the Gal­le­ria/North Loop area of Hous­ton you might want to con­sider fly­ing into IAH. The cab fare from Hobby to the North Loop re­gion runs $54.50 to $55.50. Should you ever need to make a cross-town air­port con­nec­tion via taxi be pre­pared to pay $71 or $72 for the ride.

In­vig­o­rat­ing In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal

The ride up at In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port in re­cent years has been heady. The tenth busiest air­port in the land ac­cord­ing to Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional - North Amer­ica, IAH is su­perbly con­nected. The five-run­way af­fair has mor­phed from a bit of a white ele­phant at its 1969 open­ing to a for­mi­da­ble com­peti­tor. Con­sider, you can now fly non­stop from Hous­ton Ge­orge Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal to Tokyo on United, Dubai via Emi­rates, Doha via Qatar Air­ways, and Moscow via Sin­ga­pore Air­lines (the flight con­tin­ues on to Sin­ga­pore Changi). Given the city of Hous­ton’s po­si­tion as petro-cap­i­tal of the planet, it’s likely long-haul links will con­tinue to flour­ish.

Do­mes­ti­cally, ul­tra-low fare Spirit Air­lines is fo­cus­ing fiercely on Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, be­ly­ing the be­lief that the only low-cost car­ri­ers in town op­er­ate out of Hobby. With the April 25 launch of lowfre­quency non­stop ser­vice from IAH to Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional, Spirit is cast­ing a far-flung net out of the Bayou City. Among other places, the car­rier serves Chicago O’Hare, Las Vegas and Or­lando. Den­ver and Detroit non­stops are sched­uled to be­gin June 13.

The walk­ing dis­tances at IAH can be daunt­ing. All but unique to this air­port is the abil­ity to shut­tle about‘twixt ter­mi­nals via two light rail lines. Ter­mi­nal Link is the above-ground ser­vice, pro­vid­ing quick, el­e­vated con­nec­tions among all five ter­mi­nals. If you pre­fer (few folks do) there’s also an un­der­ground in­ter-ter­mi­nal trans­port con­veyance, one that’s been around since the air­port’s in­cep­tion. It’s a bit small, and some­times mad­den­ingly slow – but it does have the ad­van­tage of trans­port­ing you to one of the coun­try’s very best air­port ho­tels.

The Hous­ton Air­port Mar­riott is a gem. It’s right in the mid­dle of the air­port.You can’t miss the struc­ture, topped as it is by a re­volv­ing steak­house (this is Texas, af­ter all). CK’s Restau­rant is first rate, worth the trip to the Mar­riott even if you’re not stay­ing at the ho­tel.

The Mar­riott has a busi­ness cen­ter open to all com­ers. That’s good, be­cause the air­port it­self is bereft of one that’s not in­side an air­port club. IAH does har­bor a pair of in­ter­faith chapels, how­ever. Ter­mi­nal C’s lies be­tween Gates 29 and 33; D’s is at Gate 8.

The good thing about Hous­ton and en­vi­rons is that lots of the growth has been to the north. What was once a re­mote air­port is now nearer – de­pend­ing on where your busi­ness takes you. Again, there is no rapid rail out to IAH. A cab ride down­town will cost you $52.50 to $53.50, de­pend­ing on the time of day. North Hous­ton is a bit cheaper: $45 or $46. Should you be headed to NASA’s John­son Space Cen­ter south of town be pre­pared to pay with plas­tic; a taxi runs $104.50 to $105.50. If NASA is your des­ti­na­tion, you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter off fly­ing through Hobby. A cab from HOU to NASA costs $37.50 to $38.50.

Two air­ports, two mis­sions. In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal is pre­cisely that – in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, a crit­i­cal United hub with globe-girdling reach. Hobby may be hand­some th­ese days. But it’s still a de­cid­edly short- to medium-haul do­mes­tic op­er­a­tion. It’s likely to re­main so, even af­ter South­west gets those five in­ter­na­tional gates in a cou­ple of years. BT

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