HOUSTON – Houston-area airports George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby re-opened today at 4:00 pm CST. The re-opening of the Houston Airport System marked the first set of flight operations in the hurricane-ravaged Houston metropolitan area, home to 6.3 million people, since last Friday. However, despite the limited resumption of service, airlines aren’t exactly coming back with full-service portfolios.

For example, Southwest Airlines, which operates a major hub at Houston Hobby, will not be restarting service until Saturday. According to a Southwest spokesperson:

We [Southwest] will resume limited flight activity on Saturday afternoon with a mix of Employees from Houston and other cities, as we continue to focus on assisting our more than 4,000 Southwest Employees who live and work in the Houston area and directly feel the impact of the storm. We are preparing for the resumption of service by fully assessing the impact Harvey has had on our local Employees, the airport and the surrounding areas that provide access in and out of the airport facility (roads and parking). We expect conditions will steadily improve each day. The opening of the airfield is a real milestone and we applaud our partners at the City of Houston for setting the stage for airlines to begin rebuilding flight service at Hobby. Now, we must ensure that we have adequate staffing and functional concessions, airport facilities, roadways and parking to serve our Customers.

United Airlines, which has a hub at the larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport resumed normal service Wednesday afternoon, but will likely need several days to fully dig its Houston operation out of the whole that it is in. According to a United spokesperson:

We [United] plan to resume some very limited, hub to hub flying for our customers in and out of Houston this evening (3 flights in and 3 fights out). We expect to continue to operate a limited, hub-to-hub schedule tomorrow and begin flying a partial United Express schedule beginning Friday, September 1. Though we are resuming our operation in Houston, customers should expect to see cancelations, particularly for our regional flights, into the weekend and early part of next week.  If possible, customers who need to immediate rebook or adjust flights should do so via the United app or online. We’ve shared instructions on how to self-service rebook on the United Hub that can be found on the homepage.

Other airlines are also taking a cautious approach. American’s flights to Houston Hobby will not resume until Friday and flights to Houston Hush will not resume until Thursday. And in all of the cases, the flight volumes will be severely reduced from normal levels in one of America’s busiest airport systems.

Accordingly, the Houston Airport System has warned passengers not to make their way to the airport unless they have confirmed the status of their flight:

Only those with a ticket for a confirmed scheduled flight should come to the airport… Many roads around the City of Houston are still unsafe for travel, therefore, we urge all passengers to take their time arriving to the airports and to solidify a safe route to and/or from our facilities.

The Houston airport system is one of the busiest in the country, processing more than 53 million passengers each year (~41 million at Bush, ~12 million at Hobby). To date, more than 8,700 flights have been canceled in Houston alone, with the total flight impact from Hurricane Harvey numbering more than 10,000 canceled flights.
Because the Houston airports are center-of-the-country hubs for two of the nation’s four largest airlines, the operational impact has also been massive. The devastation of Hurricane Harvey is, of course, worst in Houston, but the second order effects have reverberated nationwide and across multiple industries.