MIAMI— Southwest Airlines inaugurates the new international terminal at Houston’s Hobby airport this morning with service to eight destinations. In advance of that service launch the carrier hosted its annual Media Day event outside of Dallas for the first time ever, showing off the new facility and the amenities it will bring to passengers. With a price tag just shy of $150mm the facility includes five new gates (four are leased to Southwest; the fifth is common use today) and a full immigration and customs facility.
On the departures level the new terminal offers plenty of space in each gate area, plus new dining and shopping options for passengers. There are no standing work areas which are commonly seen in other Southwest gate areas but every seat has 110V and USB power outlets available for travelers. New dining options include Pappasita’s (Tex Mex), Yia Yia Mary’s (Greek) and Chick-fil-a. Shopping outlets include a news stand, Brookstone’s and Desigual. There is also a Pappasita’s Cantina bar situated in the middle of the terminal towards the far end, drawing passengers down the space for a pre-flight cocktail.
All of the gates are capable of handling either international or domestic arrivals and departures. When an inbound flight requires immigration and customs clearance the doors are arranged such that passengers are routed downstairs into the secure arrival area.
That arrivals space is typical of a US immigration setup, though it has a few distinct features based on its design and construction timeframe. The Global Entry and Automated Kiosk setup, for example, is native to the build rather than a retrofit. Global Entry members are greeted with six kiosks available to process their arrival.
Separately there are 14 Automated Passport Control (APC) Kiosks, a public/private partnership between the Houston Airport System and USICS. The APC kiosks operate in six languages and are available to process US Citizens, Permanent Residents, VWP travelers as well as limited visa travelers including foreign crew. Most visa-carrying passengers will still be processed manually but the kiosks are running v4.0 of the APC Kiosk software, the newest available for the systems.
Baggage claim and Customs clearance are just after the immigration area, as is the secondary inspection area. The total capacity of the immigration facility, if fully staffed, is estimated around 800 passengers per hour between 6am and 10pm daily.
Southwest expects to be able to handle about 25 daily arrivals with the gates as currently configured. That leaves plenty of room for expansion to additional destinations. No word yet on exactly when or where that expansion will happen, but based on comments during the day it is safe to assume that more international service is being studied for Hobby. And there’s a gorgeous facility available to handle it.