You guys know the drill. In far too many airports, regional jet flights are relegated to the far reaches of the tarmac, accessible often by shuttle bus or tired feet. When RJs do get to pull up to the terminal like the big boys, it’s often at out-of-the-way gates, the kind shunned by larger aircraft.
Now, a bit of light at the end of the jet bridge has begun to shine. It comes from the Bayou City where the Houston Airport System is partnering with United Continental Holdings (the two carriers are merging) on a $1 billion makeover at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Phase one of the project will see a new Terminal B south concourse, one dedicated to domestic regional jet operations.
Regional jets play an increasingly important role at hubs like Houston, connecting not just smaller cities to the Continental network, but some larger ones as well.
B south certainly could use an upgrade. Built way back in 1969 as one of IAH’s two original terminals, the appendage is maxed out. Any one who frequents Houston can tell you that. The new $161 million south concourse initiative will replace the existing south flight stations with a 225,000 square-foot facility – more gate space, more concessions and more restrooms. Exciting? No. Needed? Yes.
Here’s what flyers will see on the new B south:
- A wide, spacious connecting bridge leading to a modern central passenger lounge.
- A commodious customer lounge replete with neat views of the tarmac, lots of restrooms and more places to grab a bite to eat.
- A “high-efficiency” boarding set-up that United/Continental says will permit up to 30 flights to depart from three boarding zones.
- Durable, modern interior finishes. Nothing communicates ‘shabby’ better than scuffed and faded walls and ceilings.
- A design that pays proper homage to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria.
This, as we said, is just phase one. It’s due to be completed in late 2013. The entire $1 billion project will span seven to ten years.
Here’s what else United’s future flyers to and from Houston Bush Intercontinental can expect:
- A comprehensive re-working of the central Terminal B lobby and baggage claim areas.
- A new international-capable north concourse for mainline and regional jet flights. This is particularly important in this border state. Continental fields he nation’s most comprehensive flight schedule to Mexico out of IAH, reaching deep into many of the country’s smaller, out-of-the-way cities. The new facilities will play an important role here.
- Infrastructure improvements that encompass upgraded roadways, sineage, utilities, fuel-storage and such.
IAH is the nation’s fourth-largest commercial airport. All indications are United Continental Holdings will try to keep it there, or push rankings even higher.
Both Houston mayor Annise Parker and United president and CEO Jeff Smisek lavish praise on the project. Parker says it will help Houston “position itself to serve the world,” while Smisek contends it “clearly demonstrate[s] United’s commitment to Houston.”
Story by Jerry Chandler
(Image: John Roever)