Maybe Houston’s airport saga is a lot like the coming month of March… in like a LION, out like a lamb?
As readers may recall from last year, the biggest news in Houston politics was regarding the bid by Southwest Airlines to expand Hobby into an International Airport, while bearing the FULL cost of the expansion. Once United Airlines (of which Houston’s main International Airport IAH is its largest hub) learned of this, the company launched a full-scale campaign to de-rail Southwest’s plans. United Airlines mobilized its employees, and warned citizens of massive layoffs at IAH if the Hobby plans were approved. And of course, they immediately threatened 1,300 layoffs as soon as City Council approved the Hobby expansion. Though as some have pointed out, United was likely looking for an excuse to make the job cuts. Layoffs in 2012 are quite suspect when Hobby’s new services wouldn’t even be online until 2015.
But now that the deeds are done, both Hobby and IAH have continued to operate with little drama since then. And today, the City Council approved not only the authorization of International services at Hobby, but also a continuation and clarification of plans by United to expand Terminal B at IAH!! No cat fighting, and no drama.
So just to catch up the populace, one of the hot debates in Houston is over William P. Hobby Airport (HOU). Southwest Airlines is offerring the city something of a “sweet action” deal… create 10,000 jobs and make Hobby into an International Airport, while Houston enjoys the benefits of increased revenue and visitors. They’ve promised a $100 million dollar investment up front. So far, so good, right?? Well it’s good for everyone except United Airlines, who vehemently opposes the deal. They say that it will cost jobs at Bush Intercontinental Airport and will hurt travel times due to additional strain on Customs employees. As one who can attest to this, Customs at IAH is already staffed down to the bitter bone. But frankly, Houstonians all know that there is still no love for United after the takeover of Continental in 2010. We lost thousands of jobs, a Houston Fortune 500 company and one of the best major Airlines in the US. Houstonians are nice people indeed, but on this decision, they have not forgiven, nor forgotten. Even Mayor Annise Parker herself finds no political danger in openly criticizing United as can be evidenced from this recent tweet…
Not to downplay what positives United has brought and will continue to bring to Houston. They honored their promise to make IAH the main hub of the Airline, and our city has certainly benefitted in that process. They have continued be a local “team player” by providing Corporate Sponsorship for organizations from the Houston Grand Opera to our annual Houston Pride Parade. They remain a vital part of the Houston community.
But even the best neighborhood has a couple of Desperate Housewives, right? And they never shy away from a little competition.
And here’s the kicker… Hobby is already an International Airport. It was Houston’s first Airport after all, and is the site of treasured aviation history. Since IAH came along, it’s role has slightly diminished, but is never too far away from the heart of Houston (literally and figuratively). And since we as a city have lost our own hometown Airline, I think the last thing we’d want is to deny a fellow Texas business the opportunity to grow. So in my opinion, it’s time for Hobby to reclaim some of it’s old school prominence, and give Houstonians more travel options at a more competitive price point. Just like the high-flying Astros, this too is Game ON!!