Southwest Commences International Flights at Houston Hobby

//Southwest Commences International Flights at Houston Hobby

By: Jack Harty

Last month, Southwest Airlines flight 2207 was a significant flight; it marked Southwest’s first flight between Aruba and Houston as well as Southwest’s first international arrival into Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport.

Aruba

44 years ago, Southwest commenced flights between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio with three Boeing 737s, and over the years, the airline has rapidly stretched its wings from coast to coast. Thanks to its acquisition of AirTran in 2010, Southwest is now able to start flying international flights to the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico.

Now that Southwest would have international access thanks to its AirTran acquisition, Southwest planned to launch international flights in and out of Houston, but the airline had to win over the city’s approval to build an international terminal at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport where it has built up a large presence. It was almost a war in Houston as Southwest and United as well as the north side and south side of Houston went back and forth to determine whether the city should allow Southwest to commence international flights.

Ultimately, Southwest won approval from the city of Houston to build the international terminal. The new $156 million, five-gate international concourse is still under construction. The new facility, expected to open October 15, 2015, 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.

I had the opportunity to join Southwest Airlines on its first international arrival into Houston on March 7, 2015 from Aruba. It was an exciting day for the airline, the City of Houston, and Aruba as there is a significant economic impact with Southwest now flying international flights and continuing to grow its presence outside the U.S.

Although the new five gate international terminal at Hobby is expected to open in Fall 2015, U.S. CBP pre-clearance–which provide U.S. border inspection in certain foreign countries including Aruba–helps make it possible for Southwest to start Saturday-only international flights in and out of Houston sooner to Aruba. With pre-clearance, customers are able to deplane in Houston without further CBP inspections into the domestic terminal, quickly claim baggage and depart the airport, or make seamless connections to more than 40 destinations Southwest serves from Hobby.

Many passengers were expecting 2207 to be an ordinary Southwest flight, but upon arriving at the gate, they would soon find out that they were about to join Southwest on a special occasion.

Several members of the media and Southwest employees arrived at the airport several hours early in order to attend a small ceremony with airline, airport, and city officials before the inaugural flight to Houston. Airport employees started decorating the gate area with hundreds of balloons the night before, and a catering company set up a table offering complimentary drinks and snacks. Near the podium, there was a cake in the shape of the island and had a Southwest plane (in cake form) on top of it.

Aruba cake

Celebratory cake commencing flight from Aruba to Houston

 

About two hours before departure, a small ceremony was held at the departure gate. Both Southwest, the Aruba Tourism group, and the airport exchanged gifts. The CEO of Aruba Tourism explained that she was very happy that Aruba has played an important role in Southwest’s international expansion (it was the first international city a Southwest plane departed to on July 1 as well as the first international destinations for Houston). All parities made it clear that this new link with Houston (even though it is seasonal), will help reach deeper into the United States.

About 40 minutes before departure, boarding began, and within 20 minutes, everybody was seated and ready to go. Before the door was closed, the Houston-based flight attendants—who have more than 90 years of experience combined —posed in the jetway with Aruba’s flag right before departure, and we were off.

Aruba Flight Attendants

Our three Houston based flight attendants—with over 90 years of flying experience—pose for a picture with Aruba’s flag before we depart for Houston.

 

At 1:30 p.m. local, we began a quick take off roll and started our trek to Houston. The flight was pretty uneventful. There were some special announcements—including free drinks—throughout the flight, but most were enjoying their last nap while still being on vacation.

Aruba southwest

A view of Aruba (also known as “One Happy Island”) as we begin our 4.5 hour flight to Houston

 

After a quick descent, Southwest Flight 2207 became the first commercial international flight to land at Houston Hobby in 41 years and Southwest’s first international flight. As the aircraft approached the gate, a traditional water cannon salute was provided by the Houston Hobby fire department.

Dozens of Southwest employees greeted and cheered as passengers disembarked from the flight, and there was even another cake waiting. Minutes later, Southwest employees were back hard at work turning the aircraft from Aruba around to head to north Texas.

In six months, Southwest will open its new international concourse at Houston Hobby, and Southwest plans to launch new international flights from Houston to Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico. Plus, Southwest also plans to launch flights to Belize City, Belize and San Jose, Costa Rica from Houston when it opens!

Congratulations Southwest and Houston!

aruba southwest1

As we approached our arrival gate in Houston, we were greeted by two fire trucks for a traditional water cannon salute to signify the completion of the inaugural flight.

 

Jack Harty is currently a first-year student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Business Administration.  Jack regularly contributes to Airways Magazine and AirwaysNews.com.  He also serves as a Student Assistant in the Career Services office at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach campus.

2017-05-25T09:49:36+00:00April 2nd, 2015|Uncategorized|

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