Passengers on the first flight out of Hobby Airport's new international concourse were greeted bright and early Thursday morning by a line of cheering Southwest Airlines' employees, whooping and hollering as travelers entered the concourse.
A mariachi band serenaded them as they waited at the gate. And before boarding their 8 a.m. flight for Cancún, fliers got a handshake from Mayor Annise Parker and Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly.
Paul and Pamela Curry, from the Katy area, were counting on this excitement. They were going to travel this weekend anyway, and Pamela saw the opportunity to be on Southwest's first flight.
"I figured Southwest being Southwest, they'd make an event out of it," she said. "And they have."
Paul chimed in, saying he enjoyed walking into the concourse to applause.
Their ultimate destination is Akumal, south of Cancún, where they can go snorkeling in a turtle sanctuary.
Thursday marks the first time Hobby has had full-fledged international service since 1969.
"Sun is coming up, and it really is the dawn of a new era here for the city of Houston," Kelly said during a news conference.
Southwest spent $146 million, $10 million less than expected, on the 280,000-square-foot complex with five gates, a larger ticketing area and a Customs inspection station. Four of the five gates are preferentially leased by Southwest, and they're "swing gates" that can accommodate both domestic and international travelers. Seven more gates can be added later.In order for Southwest to implement international service from Hobby, they had to convince City Council to ignore a temper tantrum from United Airlines as well as convince Mexican and US aviation authorities to waive treaty-specified limitations on flights between the two countries.
In addition to Cancún, Southwest now flies from Hobby to Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo in Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rice; Belize City, Belize; and seasonally to Aruba. Flights to Montego Bay, Jamaica and Liberia, Costa Rica, begin in November. As of now Southwest has not announced any other international services out of Hobby, and to my knowledge no other airlines, foreign or domestic, have indicated that they will themselves to Hobby's new international facilities.
One airline that will never be using Hobby's international gates under any circumstance, however, is US Airways. Today was their final flight as an airline:
It's the end of the line for US Airways.I previously covered this merger here, here and here. Does its completion mark the end of the consolidation trend in the domestic airline industry, at least for now?
The airline that started as a tiny airmail service 76 years ago is retiring as part of a 2013 merger with American Airlines. The final US Airways flight is scheduled to take off from Philadelphia on Friday.
It's a small part of a huge trend that's affecting how more than 660 million domestic air travelers fly every year.
Fourteen years ago, the United States had 10 major domestic airlines. Now, the competing major carriers have merged into four: American, Delta, Southwest and United.
Together, they control about 87% of the domestic market, MIT's International Center for Air Transportation said.
Are more megamergers coming? Will four be cut to three? Unlikely, says Winston. "Mergers are very risky propositions. They don't necessarily work well." Corporate cultures can clash. Merging complicated computer reservation and scheduling networks can be bumpy, at best. Just ask United Airlines, which was still struggling to smooth its operations five years after its megamerger with Continental Airlines, the Wall Street Journal reported.CNN has an infographic of airline consolidation showing that, since the century began, we've gone to 10 major airlines to just four; not shown is JetBlue, who would round out the top five.
Appropriately, US Airways' last run will be Flight 1939, the year it all began. The flight will depart Friday from Philadelphia, heading to Charlotte and then Phoenix and San Francisco. From there, it will take off again and fly east, ending its celebratory journey on Saturday back in Philly, in the state where its history began.