Momentum Continues for International Air Service in Houston

Latest arrival Korean Air expands service even before first flight takes off

Feb. 21, 2014

Houston, TX - The good news surrounding international air service in Houston continues to arrive, as leaders with Korean Air decide to expand their route schedule at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), even before the arrival of their first flight.  The flight between Houston and Incheon International Airport (ICN) was originally slated to feature four flights per week but airline officials have made an early determination that the Houston market can fully support daily service between the two destinations.  As a result, Houston passengers will have a choice of seven departures per week when the service begins on May 2, 2014.

“We welcome this exciting news from our partners with Korean Air,” says Houston Mayor Annise Parker.  “This early expansion is a clear indication that the Houston market is responding extremely well to the pending flight to Seoul.  We’re excited to welcome them to Houston in May and obviously the city’s air passengers are feeling the same way.”

“Houston’s vibrant and diverse economy is presenting some extraordinary business opportunities for international air carriers based in markets around the world,” says Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz.  “Korean Air obviously recognizes these opportunities and is fully invested in capitalizing on them.  We agree with their assessment and can’t wait to welcome the new daily service.”

The news from Korean Air is the latest in a string of announcements that have come from the Houston Airport System (HAS) over the past year regarding expanded international air service for the 6 million residents living in the Houston region.  In less than a year’s time, HAS leaders have either marked or announced the arrival of three new international carriers and all three airlines have increased the number of flights available to passengers over their original operation:

Turkish Airlines:  The remarkable series of launches began in April 2013, when Turkish Airlines operated its first flight between IAH and Ataturk International Airport (IST) in Istanbul, Turkey.  Originally featuring four flights per week, the service was enhanced to offer seven departures per week.

Air China:  In July 2013, more than 10 years’ worth of hard work finally paid off with the arrival of Air China and their nonstop service to Beijing’s Capital International Airport (PEK).  Launched with five weekly flights, airline officials moved to daily service within eight months, the quickest expansion for an U.S. market served by Air China.

Korean Air:  The decision to expand Korean Air’s service in Houston arrived even before its first Boeing 777-200 aircraft.  Rather than begin Houston service with four flights operating each week, Korean Air will feature daily service.

In addition to the activity coming from foreign-based carriers, Houston is also reaping the benefits from expanded service involving U.S. airlines, especially the two dominant carriers operating in the Houston market.  United Airlines will be launching nonstop service to Munich, Germany in March 2014 and will also introduce a second daily frequency to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.  Meanwhile Southwest Airlines continues to add new destinations to its route map at William P. Hobby Airport, as the Texas-based airline continues to prepare for international air service in Houston, set to begin in early 2016.  In 2013 alone, Southwest Airlines added eight new destinations on their list of available nonstops at Hobby Airport.

“This is definitely an exciting time for those of us who are tasked with attracting new airlines to the Houston market,” says Ian Wadsworth, Chief Commercial Officer for the Houston Airport System.  “Our pitch to the airlines is only as strong as Houston’s economy and its demand for air service.  Right now, we’re able to present a very strong case to airlines operating around the world.”

Wadsworth says that much of that conversation centers on the overall increase in the amount of international travel recently taking place in Houston.  George Bush Intercontinental Airport handled more international traffic in 2013 than at any time in its 45 year history, almost 9 million total passengers.  The growth is even more impressive when viewed over the past decade.  Since 2003, the total number of international travelers has increased by approximately 60 percent, with new service being established in areas such as Asia and Africa, well beyond Houston’s solid foundation of air service to Latin America.