Houston’s Airports: The Complete Guide

Southwest Airlines at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston

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More than 52 million passengers flew in and out of Houston in 2017. The bigger of the two airports, George Bush Intercontinental, sees more than 40 million passengers a year alone, and the smaller William P. Hobby is growing fast, too. Houstonians tend to have a fierce alliance to one airport or the other — George Bush Intercontinental has more amenities and airlines, while Hobby is easier to navigate — but both have their own benefits and drawbacks. Here’s the breakdown of what to expect when traveling through George Bush Intercontinental or Hobby airport.

 

George Bush Intercontinental 

The overwhelming majority (75 percent) of air traffic through Houston goes through George Bush Intercontinental Airport on the north side of town. With tens of thousands of passengers coming through the terminals every day, it’s the 10th busiest airport in the country, and one of United Airline’s largest hubs.

Terminals

The airport is broken up into five separate terminals, labeled A-E. Terminals A-D predominantly service domestic flights, while terminal E is largely for international trips — though that can vary.

To go between the terminals before you go through security, take the below-ground subway train. It takes about 3 minutes to go from one terminal to the next, and a new train typically comes by every few minutes. To go between the terminals after you’ve gone through security, take the above-ground Skyway, which is faster than the subway and comes more frequently.

Getting to and From Houston

The easiest way to get to and from George Bush Intercontinental is by car. The trip is a relatively easy 25-minute drive from Houston’s downtown when there’s no traffic, but it’s not uncommon to take an hour or so during rush hour. If driving isn’t an option, however, don’t fret. Despite its pervasive driving culture, it’s entirely possible to get around Houston without a car, using a few different methods.

  • Taxis: Taxis are available at ground transportation on the south sides of terminals A-C and on the west side of terminal E. Exits are clearly marked with “taxis,” and lines tend to move fairly quickly during the day. Fares vary based on where you’re headed, but routes to/from downtown typically cost about $55, while rides to/from the southside of town near the Johnson Space Center can be over $100, not including tip.   
  • Ride-shares: Multiple ride-share apps operate in Houston and can be used to get to and from either airport. To grab a ride-share leaving the airport through terminals A-C, follow the signs for ground transportation and taxis. In terminal E, follow ground transportation signs to exit through the doors marked “Passengers Pick-up.” The ride-share pickup locations are all marked with the sign “Ride App.” Ride-shares at this airport are: Get Me, Greenlight, Lyft, Uber, and Wingz
  • Public Transit: Houston has a light-rail, but it doesn’t go to either airport. Your best bet for public transit is to take METRO bus 102 to downtown, which takes between an hour and an hour and a half. It’s cheap — only $1.25 — but the driver doesn’t make change, so be sure to bring the exact amount or purchase a Q card ahead of time online. To catch this bus, go to the baggage claim level on the south side of terminal C.
  • Getting to Hobby: To get to Hobby by bus, take METRO bus 102 downtown, and get off at the intersection of Milam and McKinney (before the Downtown Transit Center). After you get your luggage, walk two blocks to the corner of McKinney and Main to catch METRO bus 40 to Hobby. You’ll have to pay another $1.25, but it’s way cheaper than a cab or ride-share — both of which are also an option.

    Facilities In and Around the Airport

    As the larger of the two airports, George Bush Intercontinental offers a greater variety of things to do and places to eat than Hobby. If you have some time to kill before your next flight, here’s where you can go.

    • Restaurants: Several of the city’s most popular eats are available inside the airport. You can sample food from two James Beard Award-winning chefs, Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s Cocina, gate D6) and Chris Shepherd (Ember, gate C12), as well as satellite locations for local brunch favorite The Breakfast Klub (gate A1) and Tex-Mex eatery El Real (terminal B food court).
    • Shopping: In addition to countless souvenir shops, newsstands, and Duty Free stores, George Bush Intercontinental has several clothing shops for kids and adults, including — and this is true — a Spanx store (gate B1) and Victoria’s Secret (gate C1).
    • Airport Lounges: Several lounges are available inside the various terminals. These include two Priority Pass accessible lounges (terminal D), an Amex Centurion Lounge (terminal D), an Admiral Club (terminal A), and multiple United Clubs (terminals A-C and E).

    Popular Routes and Airlines

    Three out of every four passengers flying in or out of George Bush Intercontinental are flying United. The airline manages the bulk of air traffic in and out of the city, operating nearly 500 flights a day. United has daily nonstop service from Houston to 59 countries, most of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    The following airlines fly in and out of George Bush Intercontinental:

    • AeroMexico
    • Air Canada
    • Air China
    • Airfrance
    • Air New Zealand
    • Alaska
    • American Airlines
    • ANA
    • Avianca
    • Bahamasair
    • British Airways
    • Delta
    • Emirates
    • Evaair
    • Frontier
    • Interjet
    • KLM
    • Lufthansa
    • Qatar Airways
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Spirit
    • Turkish Airlines
    • United
    • VivaAerobus
    • Volaris
    • WestJet

    Parking

    A variety of parking options are available in and around George Bush Intercontinental to accommodate the large number of drivers making their way through the airport. These include:

    • Terminal Garage Self-Parking: Garages are available at all five terminals, with rates ranging from $5 for under an hour to $22 a day.
    • Valet Parking: Each terminal garage has a valet option that’s $13 for a couple of hours or $26 a day.
    • SurePark: This members-only service has guaranteed parking spaces inside terminal C’s garage for $24 a day.
    • Ecopark and Ecopark2: These outside lots have cheaper daily rates than at the concourse (around $6-$7 per day), with a free shuttle service that will take you to and from the terminals.
    • Off-site Lots: Discount lots outside the airport include PreFlight, the Parking Spot, the Parking Spot 2, and Park ‘N Fly.

    Car Rentals

    George Bush Intercontinental has a dedicated Rental Car Center that’s about a five-minute shuttle ride from the airport. You can catch the shuttle near the ground transportation area in terminals A-C and E. The following companies have counters at the Rental Car Center:

    • Advantage
    • Alamo
    • Avis
    • Budget
    • Dollar
    • Enterprise
    • Hertz
    • National
    • Payless Car Rental
    • Thrifty Car Rental
    • Zipcar

    William P. Hobby Airport

    The biggest advantage to Hobby is also its biggest drawback: It’s small. The compact terminal makes it really easy to navigate, and getting through security is a breeze. But it doesn’t have nearly as many amenities or airlines as George Bush Intercontinental.

    Getting to and From Houston

    Geographically, Hobby is closer to downtown than George Bush Intercontinental, but because it’s inside Beltway 8, the near-constant traffic makes the drive time about the same. If you aren’t going to drive, however, you have options:

    • Taxis: Catching a cab is really easy at Hobby. Walk outside at baggage claim, and head to the right until you see the taxi line. There’s almost never a wait.
    • Ride-shares: Multiple ride-shares pick up riders at Hobby. To find them, exit outside of baggage claim’s carousel 4, and follow signs for “Ride App” until you reach Curb Zone 5.
    • Public Transit: To get to and from downtown, take METRO Bus 40. You can catch it just outside baggage claim at Curb Zone 3. It will drop you off at a number of stops in downtown Houston, including the George R. Brown Convention Center.
    • Getting to George Bush Intercontinental: Ride-shares and taxis are available to take you to George Bush Intercontinental, but if you want to take the public transit route, take METRO bus 40 downtown to the intersection of Lamar and Milam. Then walk two blocks to the corner of McKinney and Travis to catch METRO bus 102.

    Facilities In and Around the Airport

    Hobby doesn’t have as many amenities as its larger counterpart, but it has enough to stave off hunger or boredom while you wait for your flight.

    • Restaurants: Hobby has about a dozen hot-meal options to choose from. These include local chains Pappas Bar-B-Q (outside security), Pappasito’s Cantina Bar (gates 4 and 21), Pappas Burger (gate 46), and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (gate 41). 
    • Shopping: In addition to a few newsstands and a Duty Free, Hobby has a MAC store (gate 40), two Brookstones (gates 1 and 20), an iStore (gate 45), and a Texas-size candy shop (gate 21).
    • Airport Lounges: The only airport lounge available inside Hobby is the USO lounge, which caters to military personnel and their families flying through Houston. You can access the lounge inside security near gate 44.

      Popular Routes and Airlines

      Nearly all (93 percent) of flights in and out of Hobby are via Southwest. It’s the airline’s 7th busiest airport in terms of daily takeoffs, operating 174 departures to 64 destinations every day, mostly to areas in the Southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.

      While Southwest has the biggest presence at Hobby, it’s not the only airline that operates there. The full list of airlines flying in and out of Hobby include:

      • American Airlines
      • Delta
      • JetBlue
      • Southwest

      Parking

      Parking in and around Hobby is relatively easy. Here are your options:

      • Garage Terminal Self-Parking: There’s a parking garage just outside the terminal that charges anywhere from $5 (under an hour) to $22 for the day.
      • Valet Parking: On the second level of the garage, you can valet park for $13 (under two hours) or $26 for the day.
      • Ecopark: This outside lot is entirely uncovered and charges about $10 a day. A free shuttle takes you to and from the airport between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
      • Off-site Lots: Off-site lots with shuttles to and from Hobby include PreFlight, the Parking Spot, Park-Hobby 4 Less, Key Airport Parking, and Fast Park & Relax. 

        Car Rentals

        Several car rental companies operate out of Hobby — nearly all of which have counters at baggage claim. But you’ll still have to take a shuttle to get your rental car. You can grab the shuttle outside of baggage claim at Curb Zone 1.

        Rental car companies servicing Hobby include:

        • Advantage
        • Alamo
        • Avis
        • Budget
        • Dollar
        • Enterprise
        • Hertz
        • National
        • Payless Car Rental
        • Thrifty Car Rental