Texas: a tale of two cities and three airlines

Map: Texas
Image: Emirates began offering daily flights between Houston and Dubai
In February, Emirates began offering daily flights between Houston and Dubai. Emirates chairman and CEO HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum is pictured cutting the ribbon at a ceremony to celebrate the launch of the service.

The state of Texas is around 25% larger than France and almost three times the size of the UK. Its population of around 24 million, is the second highest of any US state, beaten only by California with around 37 million.

In aviation terms it is home to not one but two of the world’s top 20 airports, and can also claim to be the birthplace of low-cost legend Southwest Airlines. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) with 60 million passengers ranked sixth in 2006 and Houston George Bush Intercontinental (IAH), to give it its full name, with 42.6 million ranked 16th in global terms in 2006.

Both Dallas and Houston also have secondary airports at Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby, which cater primarily for the low-cost market with Southwest dominant at both airports.

Chart: Top airports in Texas (excluding DFW/IAH)
Source: Airports, anna.aero estimates

The airports of Texas handled an estimated 144 million passengers in 2007, which is about the same as all French airports. However, traffic at the two largest airports was virtually unchanged. DFW saw traffic dip 1% to just under 60 million, while passenger numbers at IAH climbed 1% to 43 million. Amazingly, DFW first reached 60 million passengers as long ago as 1997.

Map: Open Skies 2008
2008 is ‘The Year of the International Traveler’ at Dallas/Fort Worth. The new Open Skies agreement between the US and EU will see two new international routes to London Heathrow (beginning 29 March) and Amsterdam Schiphol (30 March).

Domestic routes dominated by three airlines

A closer look at which airlines operate most flights reveals that just three airlines are responsible for nearly 90% of all scheduled seats and flights on domestic routes departing from Texas airports.

Airline Frequency Share Capacity share
American 36.1% 37.3%
Continental 31.5% 25.6%
Southwest 19.3% 25.1%
Delta 3.0% 2.7%
US Airways 2.2% 2.3%
United 2.6% 2.3%
Northwest 1.6% 1.4%
Source: OAG Max Online

American dominates DFW, Continental dominates IAH and Southwest is dominant just about everywhere else. The other major US LCCs have very little presence in the Lone Star state. Frontier operates from Denver to five Texas airports, while AirTran and jetBlue each operate just three routes into the state.

View details of Southwest’s operation from its ancestral home at Dallas Love Field.

One of the shortest major airport pairs in the US is between Houston and Austin, a distance of only 150 miles. The route is served by Continental (73 times weekly between IAH and Austin) and Southwest (which operates from Houston Hobby to Austin). The only shorter route among the top 1,000 US domestic routes is between Portland (Oregon) and Seattle, which clocks in at 130 miles.

Continental leader in international markets

Continental operates 62 international routes from its Houston hub, half of which are to destinations in Mexico. However, it currently serves only three European destinations – Amsterdam, London and Paris. In total, Continental operates over 800 weekly international departures, almost twice as many as American from its DFW base. American flies to 34 international destinations, of which 14 are in Mexico. It serves Frankfurt, London and Paris in Europe.

The leading non-US carriers in terms of flights are Air Canada, Aeromexico and Mexicana, while in seat terms British Airways, Air Canada and Lufthansa each have between two and three percent of international seat capacity. Emirates operate a daily service to Houston (a 17-hour flight which began as recently as last November) and Qatar Airways will begin services from Doha to Houston in November. The only Asian carrier to serve Texas is Korean Air, which flies thrice weekly to Seoul.

International links from ‘regional’ airports

Logo: Vivaaerobus.comApart from DFW and IAH there are also international services from San Antonio to Mexico with Mexicana and Aeromexico, while Austin has daily flights to Mexico with Aeromexico. Starting on 1 May, Mexican LCC Vivaaerobus will be starting daily flights from Austin to Cancun and Monterrey. To see how air fares at Texas’ leading airports compare with the national average see this week’s farewatch.


  1. Michael Jones says:

    You missed a great angle for this story that may be worthy of a follow up. In the Texas Rio Grande Valley there are five International Airports within 60 miles of each other BRO, MAM, HRL, REX, and MFE. What competition!

    anna.aero replies: I’m not sure how ‘international’ these airports are or how much competition they are actually generating given that two of the five airports (Matamoros and Reynosa) are in Mexico. The only hint of competition is that Continental serves its Houston (IAH) base from Brownsville (BRO), Harlingen (HRL) and McAllen (MFE).

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