This year will be one for the record books. In 2020, the world took a pause. It was a year of loss but also of resilience in the face of adversity. Houston Airports faced a crisis like no other time in recent history and was able to meet the challenges and overcome.
January took off with an historic start! Houston Airports had just set another record-breaking passenger traffic year. Southwest Airlines had just invested in Houston in a major way, by opening its largest-ever maintenance facility at William P. Hobby Airport, HOU. The $125 million, 240,000-square-foot-maintenance complex includes offices, training facilities, warehouse space and a 140,000-square-foot-hangar.
However, by the end of the month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This was followed by nationwide travel restrictions banning international flights from certain areas and travel quarantines. By April, travel had declined by 95% from the previous year.
The Houston Airports team jumped into action by launching the FlySafe Houston initiative in June. This initiative includes new enhanced safety measures implemented throughout the passenger’s travel experience. Safety measures include masks/face coverings worn by all Houston Airports employees, touchless kiosks at select airline ticketing counters, facial comparison technology at select departing and immigration entry points, deep cleanings, social distancing markers in queues, safety shields, additional installment of hand sanitizer stations, increased frequency of air-filter replacements and public announcements and signage to promote good hygiene and social distancing.
Due to the success of the program, Airports Council International, ACI, designated both George Bush Intercontinental, IAH and Hobby as safe and secure airports for the traveling public. ACI’s Airport Health Accreditation program recognizes airports around the world for prioritizing health and safety measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team didn’t miss a beat by supporting the community with masks drives, school supplies and supporting the Houston Food Bank’s increase in food demand by lending space and support to feed Houston-area families.
The team took advantage of the lull in traffic to enhance the airport experience for passengers when they returned by adding new amenities like a yoga room, children’s play areas, mother’s room for nursing women, free book exchange provided by the Little Library, better wayfinding signage, upgraded flooring and carpeting, increased charging stations and more.
The IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, ITRP, the most significant expansion program in the history of Bush Airport, continued to progress. The completed ITRP will greatly enhance the passenger experience, accommodate continuous international airline growth, and lay the foundation for future growth and expansion.
Despite the turbulence, Houston Airports still experienced notable accomplishments:
United Airlines pulled back the curtain on a Texas-sized facility for technical operations at Bush Airport that spans nearly six football fields under one roof. The nearly $200 million, 375,000-square-foot facility includes additional hangar capacity for maintaining widebody aircraft, a new warehouse distribution center, a technical service building and administrative offices.
Houston remains the only city in the Western Hemisphere to have two four-star Skytrax rated airports and earned a long list of honors in various categories including World’s Top 100 Airports, Best Airport Dining, Best Airport Staff, and World’s Best Website and Digital Services at the 2020 Skytrax World Airport Awards.
Moody’s recognized Houston Airports as being in the best liquidity position among airports in the United States.
Houston Airports scored among the best in North America, according to the 2020 J.D. Power North America Airport Satisfaction Study. Both Bush and Hobby airports noted double-digit scoring improvements from 2019. Most notably, HOU’s score climbed by more than 30 points from 2019 to finish in fourth place in the large airports category—up from 10th place in 2019. IAH also saw a double-digit scoring increase to finish in 13th place in the mega airports category.
Houston reached a technological milestone as the only U.S. city to have two airports equipped with facial comparison technology at international arrivals checkpoints. The technology — in addition to providing faster processing of passengers — also reduces touchpoints.
As 2020 comes to a close, the Houston Airports team looks to the brighter horizons that 2021 will bring where staff can welcome and interact more intimately with customers again.