Houston’s airports are reopening; your flight is probably not going

Houston’s two commercial airports are set to reopen on Wednesday afternoon as southeastern Texas begins to unravel the mess caused by Hurricane Harvey. With thousands of flights already canceled by the storm the airports reopening is a major step forward in getting people and supplies moving. But the vast majority of flights will still not be operating for at least a day; it could be early next week before something resembling normal operations resume.

The airport opening is a function of confirming that the runways and taxiways are safe and the FAA having staff in position to handle traffic. Airlines cannot operate if the field is closed (the special rescue flights not withstanding) so this is a necessary step towards resumption of service.

But it won’t get the thousands of Houston-based airline or airport employees to the terminals. It won’t get the planes back into rotations at the airports. Both United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, the two largest operators in Houston, note that full resumption of operations is days away.

Southwest previously canceled all flights at Hobby through at least Noon on Thursday:

United similarly announced that operations would be suspended through Noon Thursday. It expects to resume operations with only hub-to-hub flights for the first day, ensuring that it can staff the flights and keep things moving.

So what does the “open airport” really mean?

It makes things easier for the airlines moving supplies into Houston; no more special permission required from the FAA.

It eases the process for the commercial carriers to bring volunteer “operations recovery” reams in from their other hubs. Typically hundreds of non-residents will come in to an affected airport to help restart operations and cover for their colleagues who are directly affected by the storm. In this case the need is even greater as both airports serve as crew bases meaning pilots and flight attendants for Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are among those displaced by the storm. Crew from other airports will come in on the first inbound flights, positioning to help staff the spin-up of operations.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. A couple of years ago, we sat around for hours in an ice event at DFW, waiting for the captain. We had left early to allow extra time for the bad weather, but he didn’t, and he got stuck in traffic. Somebody has to show up to fly the planes.

  2. I saw pictures of planes parked at gates at Houston airports. Why would the airline leave the planes in a storm when they could be used elsewhere. Even if they couldn’t be used – why risk damage to them?

    1. The vast majority are flown out of the way in advance. It is a delicate balance of getting everything (and everyone) out and not shutting down too early, just in case. Often a few end up left behind. Southwest had ~15 planes at HOU when that airport closed. UA had a few as well.

  3. I laughably booked a saver award ticket to meet wife and daughter tonight after work in DFW, where they have been since Wednesday. Of course, my flight, and every other UA flight to DFW out of IAH, cancelled. Should have taken advantage of the AA saver availability thru BA when it was still available; could only get an award flight for 30k AAdvantage. Understandable, of course, and nothing compared to what so many of my friends, family, and neighbors are going thru.

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