United says it is committed to
Analyst says carrier could take fresh look at its
connecting airports, finances
Posted by Houston Chronicle on August 18, 2014
United Airlines on Monday reaffirmed its commitment to Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport in the wake of an analyst's report suggesting the Chicago-based carrier might reconsider its hub operations to improve its financial position.
"Houston is a vital part of United's network," the airline said in a statement.
The Houston Airport System likewise reported "nothing to worry about in Houston."
"We don't see any signs that there are issues with Bush as a hub for United Airlines," said Molly Waits, the airport system's director of air service developments, noting that United has invested in airport infrastructure by paying to rebuild Terminal B and agreeing to assist in the upcoming construction on a new international terminal.
Since 2010, when United merged with Continental Airlines and consolidated its headquarters in Chicago, it has continued to maintain Intercontinental as one of its most active hubs. It accounts for 69 percent of all service activity there and has added more than a dozen routes since the merger.
In a report last week, the research firm Moody's Investors Services said United continues to perform financially below the levels of its peers American, Delta and Southwest. The report questions whether operations at its hub airports were to blame.
"If United determines that its choice of hubs is contributing to the underperformance, individual hub airports could come under pressure," the report said.
"There are a lot of questions," said analyst Earl Heffintrayer, lead author of the Moody's report. "We expect United will adjust their operations. We don't know how that will look going forward."
But Heffintrayer agreed that Intercontinental and Houston's Hobby airports appear to be in good shape. He, too, cited United's ongoing agreements with the city of Houston for capital improvements.
Overall, the Moody's report suggested U.S. airports will remain stable through the rest of the year. It said that, with thepossible exception of United, airlines have already made their plans known.
Intercontinental is United's southernmost hub and a connecting point for many Latin American routes.
The airline recently added international destinations from Houston, including Santiago,Chile, and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It added a second flight to Tokyo.
The airline also operates U.S. hubs in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Newark, N.J., and the Washington, D.C., area. Earlier this year, the airline pulled back its presence in Cleveland, citing poor performance.
United declined to offer specifics about its Houston plans.
"We've continued our commitment here and are excited about partnering with the Houston Airport System as they rebuild Terminal D to further strengthen IAH's international connectivity," it said in the statement.