As soon as 2015, your bags could fly free to Mexico and the Caribbean—not to mention you could fly for cheap. In a deal with Southwest Airlines, the Houston City Council approved an expansion that will allow international flights to and from Hobby Airport.
Southwest will foot the $100-million bill for the project. The Houston Chronicle reported that in exchange for bearing the financial burden, the airline will control four of the five new international gates—rent free—and it will get “a rebate linked to any increased sales at the airport once the airline starts its routes” outside the continental U.S. in 2015.
United Airlines, which currently enjoys a virtual monopoly on flights to Latin America out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport, frowned over the decision. United had argued that the expansion would ultimately cost Houston jobs and money, contrary to estimates from Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz, who believes the project could in fact “create 18,000 jobs and inject $1.6 billion a year into the local economy,” reported the Houston Chronicle. One councilman told the paper he worried whether the city could handle “[operating] two international airports within one system without inflicting damage of some sort.”
The paper’s Chris Moran concluded that the “overwhelming vote in favor of Southwest and Hobby signaled that by and large the Council subscribed to the simple argument that competition is good for the Houston economy.”
Just hours after the city council’s decision, United announced it would cut “planned operations at Bush Intercontinental by 10 percent and [eliminate] 1,300 Houston jobs” in the fall, Moran reported Wednesday night. Mayor Annise Parker was “dubious” of the airline’s response, telling the paper, “They’ve stated continuously that they welcome competition. That competition is at least three years away. So, for United to say there are going to be 1,300 people laid off next week or so, that’s just not reasonable. Because nothing is going to happen until that terminal is built. There’s no competition today. So any decisions they make in terms of personnel are based on other things—not the vote we cast today.”