There’s a big flight fight going on in Houston. Our big airport is a major hub for United airlines. Bush Airport was originally the home of Continental before it merged with United. United has remained committed to the Houston “hub” due to it’s Latin American gateway and significant number of international routes.
Hobby Airport is our spunky smaller airport and hosts Southwest Airlines – that upstart, Texas airline that has rapidly expanded across the U.S. with their low fare, low customer service maintenance approach.
The challenge has arisen as Southwest wants to make international flights from Hobby to nearby Latin American countries. Flights to Mexico City and beach destinations are shorter than flights to Chicago and they think they are perfectly suited for these short jaunts.
United, however, is not happy about the idea of Hobby Airport hosting International flights. Obviously, there are many reasons, not the least of which is expanded competition. They raise the argument about limited Customs and Immigration agents already being a problem at Bush Airport and adding more for Hobby or peeling away from those at Bush to add to Hobby will drain resources and create lengthier backlogs.
This is a fascinating debate for those who enjoy political theater. Airports are primarily government funded and often expanded with support from the dominant airline. Airlines themselves are a highly-regulated industry and have to work in partnership with the government to operate their businesses. While we like to think “free market” drives competition in the airline industry, it is not always the case.
City of Houston leadership are faced with a very tough decision. It is strongly recognized that being the “gateway to Latin America” is one of Houston’s greatest strengths in this century. The tourism and business opportunities in that region of the world are most easily accessed through our airports. They will have to determine the best path for expanding that gateway – a tough decision to make.