Southwest Airlines began a new era in Houston aviation when its first international flight into William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) landed on March 7, 2015.
The inaugural flight — from Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba — touched down in Houston at 4:20 (CST) and was greeted with the traditional water cannon salute and a welcome celebration featuring dozens of well-wishers. It is the kickoff of a service expansion announced by Southwest in December 2014 and just the beginning of the efforts to bring international service to Hobby Airport.
The airline soon will serve six destinations in Latin American markets thanks to a $156 million five-gate international concourse now under construction at Hobby Airport. Media members in attendance were given a “hard hat” tour of the work on the new facility, which is expected to open later this year.
The completed project will increase capacity for all airport functions and add a Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility to streamline U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) screening and baggage processing for arriving international passengers.
“This is an exciting step in achieving our goal of establishing regional international air service at Hobby Airport,” said Hobby Airport General Manager Perry Miller. “We are seeing dramatic progress being made on the new international concourse building and and these flights will undoubtedly strengthen the vital business and cultural ties that exist between Houston, Latin America and the Caribbean region.”
Until that FIS facility is ready, service to Aruba is made possible by U.S. CBP pre-clearance procedures, which provide U.S. border inspection in certain foreign countries including Aruba. This allows Southwest customers arriving at Hobby Airport from Aruba to deplane without further CBP inspections into the domestic terminal, quickly claim baggage and depart the airport, or make seamless connections to many of the more than 40 domestic destinations Southwest currently serves nonstop from HOU.
The new concourse is the product of a partnership between Southwest and the City of Houston, which is preparing for the new facility with surrounding infrastructure improvements including a new parking garage, central utility plant and roadway improvements throughout the Hobby Airport area.
Once the new facility opens, Southwest plans to offer nonstop options between HOU and four destinations in Mexico — Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos — as well as flights to San Jose, Costa Rica, and Belize City, Belize.
"We're building our first-ever international terminal project to give Houstonians, visitors to Houston, and our connecting customers exceptional value and legendary customer service in international markets for which there is great demand," said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines Chairman, President, and CEO. "Service to Mexico will be the cornerstone of our international operation at Hobby and these new destinations will provide exciting travel and business options for consumers. Adding Belize to the Southwest network and growing our Costa Rica service continues our expansion to international destinations where our people and consumer-friendly policies can deliver as no other airline can."
The Hobby project is the latest step forward in the continued growth of international passengers coming to Houston Airport System commercial airports. Both Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) saw record-breaking numbers in 2014, with more than 53 million passengers combined traveling through the two airports. Of that, nearly 10 million were international travelers passing through IAH.
Those numbers only figure to grow with the opening of the Hobby International Terminal Project, and the economic impact to the Houston area will be significant. A study conducted by HAS estimates the Hobby International Terminal Project will bring an additional 1 million air travelers each year, which will mean 10,000 new jobs to the region and provide a $1.6 billion impact annually to the local economy.
About Southwest Airlines
In its 44th year of service, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) continues to differentiate itself from other air carriers with exemplary Customer Service delivered by nearly 46,000 Employees to more than 100 million Customers annually. Southwest and wholly owned subsidiary AirTran Airways operate more than 3,400 flights a day, serving destinations across the United States and five additional countries. Book Southwest Airlines' low fares online at Southwest.com or by phone at 800-I-FLY-SWA.
About the Houston Airport System
The Houston Airport System (HAS) served more than 53 million passengers in 2014. Houston's three airports: George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P. Hobby (HOU) and Ellington Airport (EFD) contribute more than $27.5 billion to the regional economy. With nonstop flights to more than 170 destinations worldwide, IAH is the tenth-busiest airport in the nation and is the largest hub for United Airlines. For more information, visit fly2houston.com.