friendlier skies at IAH
Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH
If you’re flying out of – and presumably back to – Houston over Thanksgiving this week, like I need to tell you, it’s going to be crazy crowded at the airport.
Contrary to myth, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving isn’t actually the busiest travel day of the year, but it is in the Top 10, as is the Sunday after Turkey Day. So be like a Boy Scout and be prepared. (And, read our coverage or the Houston Airport holiday travel updates here.)
Related note: Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., isn’t the busiest shopping day in the world, either. That honor goes to Singles Day (November 11) in China, when unattached people treat themselves to new purchases, pampering, and fancy dinners. Total receipts on Singles Day in China exceed Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. combined.
In short: There’s a lot of single people in China.
So, if travel by air you must this week, and your boss is okay with it, or you “work” at home so nobody will know, try getting out on Monday or Tuesday, and back on Friday or Saturday. Good luck.
One thing in your favor, and if you’re like me and sat out flying for pleasure during COVID, you’re in for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport.
I love to travel. I’m on several lists, like Just Fly, that announce bargain airfares via email alerts. If there’s a deep cut to somewhere I want to go … I go.
I consider sharing my travel plans on a need-to-know basis, and I’ve never felt that my bosses needed to know. One time, true story, an editor called to talk about a headline over my column. Near the end of the conversation, the editor asked if it had started raining yet at my spring-summer home in West University Place.
How would I know? I was sitting at a snack bar by the Great Wall of China. (Editor's note: Well, this all makes sense now.)
Last month, I found a good fare, Houston roundtrip to London, on United. It would be my first visit to Europe since before the pandemic. I was expecting, with a nod to the great comedian Richard Lewis, the flight from Hell.
I was prepared for traffic jams at IAH, a possible delayed takeoff, maybe a canceled flight, the perpetually uncomfortable, cramped scene at Terminal C, long lines at security, limited food offerings — everything I had been hearing and fretting for the past two years.
There used to be a saying, “getting there is half the fun.” That was a luxury cruise line’s slogan back in the ‘50s to combat airlines increasing commercial flights to Europe. The slogan hasn’t held up, especially the past couple of years: lots of stress, construction woes, boiling tempers, and passengers fussin’ and fightin’ with flight attendants.
Not this time. I caught a ride and got the airport early as suggested, two hours before my international departure.
Travel tip: to avoid traffic snarls at IAH, try dropping-off and picking-up passengers at the airport Radisson Hotel and use the underground tram to Terminal C. I made it through TSA in five minutes, walked to my gate and settled in.
I always walk around the people-movers because that’s my exercise before Cinnabon.
When did all this happen? Terminal C looked like it just came out of the box. The concourse was bright, clean, roomy and organized. The seating areas were spacious, with plenty of charging stations.
There were many restaurants that were either new or I never noticed before. Ready?
Pala (Gate C5), Ember (C12), Bam Bam (C5), Agave Taqueria (C33), CIBO Express Gourmet Market (C15 and C34), El Premio Tex-Mex Bar & Grill (C34), H Burger Bar (C35), Pink’s Pizza (C42), Forno Magico (C34), Landry’s Seafood (C42), Starbucks (Gates 1, 10 and 33), Southern Belle (C42), and Wendy’s (C12).
Boarding was smooth and stress-free. United’s plane was fully staffed. The flight took off on the dot and landed several minutes early at Heathrow. I took the Heathrow Express train into London and was settled in my hotel less than an hour later.
I expected the worst, but it might have been my smoothest flight to Europe ever, from booking on United online to heading out of Heathrow. I prefer booking on airlines’ websites over the travel megasites because it’s easier to solve problems if they arise.
I needn’t have worried. Since 2019 B.C. (before COVID), Bush-Intercontinental has been in total renovation mode as part of a $1.4 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, which will continue through 2024. I didn’t know about the project. I was too busy not going anywhere. (AnotherEditor's note: We've been covering it too, Ken.)
Every year since 1999 the World Airport Awards rate 500 U.S. airports by facilities and customer service. Last year, Bush-Intercontinental was named “No. 1 U.S. Airport,” “#1 Most Improved U.S. Airport” and “#1 Cleanest U.S. Airport.” Who knew? (YetAnother Editor's Note: Heeyyyy, we did, Ken.)
Now, like millions of Americans engaged in “revenge travel,” making up for COVID timeout, I’m back, staring at a map and throwing darts where to go next.