Take Offs & Landings
This energy capital’s two aerodromes could be called complementarily competitive
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.
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.
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