Recently I wrote about how United announced its desires to enhance its LAX presence and re-take what it had conceded some years back. I explained how, although it’s a very attractive proposition at first sight, it won’t be an easy undertaking. Los Angeles is the only major market in the US in which all 3 major airlines have a hub in, which means fierce competition. Nevertheless, it seems to be the direction in which they’re headed, and though I do have my concerns, I will benefit largely as I have family and friends throughout SoCal. On the other hand, this past week United unveiled its new terminal in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental airport, which is United’s second largest hub. The $277 million, 265,000-square-foot terminal was built by United in partnership with the Houston Airport System and it’s slated to open in March, which includes a whole new lineup of dining choices. And this are very welcome news, especially if United is going to try to expand in LAX. Why is this so?
While on one hand United plans to reassert its present at its LAX hub, it’s also being proactive in maintaining and upping its game on other hubs that could be viewed as less important, because they’re either smaller markets, and thus there’s not as much competition. United currently has two hubs that compete with American (Chicago and Los Angeles) and one competing with Delta (Los Angeles). Meanwhile, American and Delta compete in three (Los Angeles, New York JFK and New York La Guardia). Why is it so important that United invests in its other hubs? For one, there’s no guarantee that the play at LAX will be a successful, though it’s guaranteed to be very expensive. Thriving in some of the smaller hubs already dominated by United is very likely and comes at a much lesser cost. Additionally, a quote this week from Mario Diaz -director of the Houston Airport System- struck a note with me: “You cannot have brand loyalty without brand service.” How true is that. And United is certainly making great strides in this regards with initiatives like Polaris, its mobile tech strategic partnership with IBM and Apple, the NextGen technology, and terminal/club improvements. Just think about some of the effects of this move in IAH:
- It’s more likely that now more travelers will be arriving extra early for their flights with United at IAH. The more time folks have at the airport, the more they’ll spend, and the more often they’ll be ready to board in time, which may be positively affect flight timely departures.
- For flyers that aren’t loyal to a specific airline, these improvements may give United an edge over American’s Dallas hub or even others outside of Texas, when selecting their itinerary. It might even help United poach some business from American because of connections through the more modern, hipper airport.
- When there are delays, it’s better to be ‘stuck’ at some airports than others. This may prove to ease flyers who have been hit by one.
These are just some of the more obvious benefits that affect the customer directly. I’ll be flying down to Houston in March to check the terminal out, so I’ll leave the details of what you can expect there for a later post that I’ll be writing on site. But a really cool detail is the nearly 8,000 iPads that will be available for travelers around the terminal! Think about it, you can be on a device while your phone charges quickly because you’re not on it as you charge it. Or maybe the airport wifi is spotty on your phone, so instead you can use an iPad to watch a movie without the need to tap into your data plan. Etc. etc…
In conclusion, United is making decisions that will certainly build a new brand. Will that new brand be marred by non-popular decisions such as basic economy, which is set to pilot out of MSP in the coming months? We’ll have to wait and see. Let’s, however, celebrate the positive today, and deal with what may come when it gets here.
Cuc Lam of Houston press took multiple nice photos of the new terminal here.