Houston Is United’s #1 Hub: Where Do Passengers Actually Fly?

Houston is United’s largest hub this year when measured by available seats, although the difference between this and Denver is minuscule. In the year to June 2021, we see that ~8.4 million passengers transited Houston with United and Star Alliance partners, just 40% of the volume it had previously. Perhaps surprisingly, Newark to Quito was the largest market.

United B767
Los Angeles to Orlando was the largest domestic transit market. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

United’s Houston hub

Across the whole of 2021, United has more seats at Houston than at any of its other hubs, according to OAG. However, Denver trails very closely, with the gap potentially narrowing further depending on progress against the pandemic as winter approaches.

Houston Intercontinental is the country’s fourth-largest hub this year, behind Atlanta, Dallas (DFW), and Charlotte. And with United having 72% of the Texas airport’s seats, it is very much a fortress hub. Heavy use of regional jets, enabling more connectivity, is partly responsible, with Houston having one of the nation’s lowest seats per flight.

United B737-900
Cancun features heavily in the top-20 transit markets. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr.

Over eight million transited over Houston

In the year to June 2021, the latest booking data I have, approximately 8.4 million people transited over Houston with United and Star partners. That is around 40% of what they had in the 12 months to June 2019, months before the pandemic was known, vividly showing how much catch-up is needed.

United B767-300ER
United’s Houston hub is the USA’s fourth-largest in 2021. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr.

The top-20 connecting markets

Probably surprisingly, booking data shows that Newark to Quito, the Ecuador capital, had more transit passengers over Houston than any origin and destination in the 12 months to June 2021. This is shown below.

Newark-Quito perhaps demonstrates the importance now of leisure and visiting friends and relatives demand. Likewise, Mexico, which features 12 times (up from five), especially because of Cancun. The vacation hotspot occupies seven spots (up from two), including from Oklahoma City and Omaha.

  1. Newark over Houston to Quito
  2. Los Angeles-Orlando
  3. Cancun-Chicago O’Hare
  4. Chicago O’Hare-Mexico City
  5. New Orleans-San Francisco
  6. Chicago O’Hare-Guadalajara
  7. Guatamala City-San Francisco
  8. Cancun-Los Angeles
  9. Mexico City-Orlando
  10. Orlando-San Francisco
  11. Austin-Cancun
  12. Denver-Mexico City
  13. Orlando-Salt Lake City
  14. Newark-San Antonio
  15. Cancun-Denver
  16. Newark-Los Cabos
  17. Cancun-Las Vegas
  18. Miami-San Francisco
  19. Cancun-Oklahoma City
  20. Cancun-Omaha
United's transit passengers over Houston
These were United’s top-20 origins and destinations over Houston in the year to June 2021. Image: GCMap.

Over half of transit passengers were domestic

The lion’s share of transit passengers (around 57%) was, of course, domestic. That was far lower than the 82% Delta had over Atlanta in the calendar year 2020, reflecting Houston’s geographic location and international progress since coronavirus started.

Additionally, around one-third of United’s Houston transit traffic was to/from Mexico and Central America, especially Costa Rica and Honduras to the US. From its Texas hub, United serves San Jose and Liberia in Costa Rica, and Roatan, San Pedro Sula, and Tegucigalpa in Honduras.

United 787-9
European transit passengers were just 7% of what they were before. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Europe and Asia have a long way to go

The rest of the transit traffic – around 10% – involved other international destinations, mainly across Latin America to the US. Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Belize were all important.

With so many restrictions and relatively little flying, Europe and Asia were almost wiped out. Europe had just 7% of the connecting volume it had previously while Asia had just 5%. It will be some time until these have recovered.

What are your experiences of connecting at Houston? Let us know in the comments.