With Houston Airports Closed, Airlines Cancel Thousands of Flights

A security line at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston in 2016. Credit Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
More than half a dozen airports in and around Houston, including one of the nation’s busiest aviation hubs, remained closed Monday amid catastrophic flooding and unprecedented rainfall associated with Tropical Storm Harvey.

Houston’s major airports — George Bush Intercontinental, the city’s largest, and William P. Hobby Airport — are expected to remain closed until Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday morning in an air traffic report. Later on Monday, United Airlines said George Bush Intercontinental would be closed until at least Thursday. Roads are flooded throughout Houston, and thousands of flights have been canceled. Airlines are offering travel waivers to ticketed passengers, allowing them to reschedule their flights into September.

More than 54 million passengers made their way through the Houston Airport System last year. Most of them came through George Bush Intercontinental, which has flights to more than 70 international destinations and to more destinations in Mexico than any other airport in the United States.

The airport had just over 16 inches of rain on Sunday, doubling the previous record of more than 8 inches set in 1945, according to the National Weather Service forecast office in Houston/Galveston. William P. Hobby Airport serves far fewer people (about 13 million last year), but offers nonstop flights to dozens of destinations in the United States, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, and is one of Southwest Airlines’s most active hubs. The carrier issued a travel advisory asking people not to attempt to reach Hobby Airport.

Together the airports support more than 220,000 local jobs, injecting more than $26 billion to the local economy, according to the Houston Airport System. George Bush Intercontinental is one of the largest hubs for United Airlines, which employs more than 11,000 people in the areas affected by Tropical Storm Harvey.

Thousands of flights have been canceled on United, Southwest and other airlines throughout the weekend and into Monday according to FlightAware. More than half a dozen carriers are offering travel waivers to people scheduled to fly to or through the area. For example, United is providing waivers for ticketed passengers who were originally scheduled to travel through certain airports in Texas and Louisiana between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. Change fees and any difference in fares will be waived for new United flights departing between now and Sept. 20, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin and between the same cities as originally ticketed. For rescheduled travel departing after Sept. 20, or for a change in departure or destination city, the change fee will be waived but there may be a difference in the cost of the fare. Other carriers, including American, Delta, Frontier, Spirit, Alaska and JetBlue, are also offering travel waivers. Details are on their websites.

It’s typical, after a storm, for it to take a few days for flight schedules to return to normal, but the situation in Houston is unusual. The powerful storm stalled over the Texas Gulf Coast during the weekend and the National Hurricane Center said that it is expecting additional rainfall accumulations of up to 25 inches across upper Texas. A tornado watch is also up for parts of southeast Texas. “Do not attempt to travel if you are in a safe place,” the center said in an advisory on Monday, “and do not drive into flooded roadways.”

Stranded and delayed air travelers took to the social media accounts of airlines to ask for help and, in some cases, express frustration