United Airlines’ $2.6B expansion plan underway at IAH with plane debut, enhanced baggage system

United Airlines’ $2.6B expansion plan underway at IAH with plane debut, enhanced baggage system Main Photo

4 Dec 2023

By: Shaheryar Khan - Community Impact

United Airlines officials announced a $2.6 billion renovation and expansion plan for George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal B on Nov. 30. The project includes the addition of a new Early Bag Storage Facility and the Airbus A321neo.

The background

Houston City Council members gave their unanimous approval Nov. 15 for the agreement between the city and United Airlines regarding the ongoing Terminal B expansion, as previously reported by Community Impact.

The United Airlines’ investment includes the Terminal B North Concourse, which is three levels, 765,000 square feet and has 22 mainline gates, according to Mario Diaz, executive director of the Houston Airport System.

The update

The new Early Bag Storage Facility, engineered by Siemens, broke ground in 2021 and will be operational by late January, according to Paul Young, facility/bag manager at United Airlines.

The Early Bag Storage Facility was part of the terminals C and E baggage handling system replacement, which cost $365 million, according to United Airlines officials; the system itself accounted for $90 million of that total.

With the Early Bag Storage Facility, bags are stored based on flight times, allowing passengers with longer layovers or later departures to store baggage temporarily, Young said.

The Early Bag Storage Facility can keep over 3,300 trays for bag storage. The system can process 40 bags per minute and has the capacity to handle 80,000 bags per day.

The system is in the testing stage and will be operational in phases of a few flights.

What’s new

United Airlines introduced the new Airbus A321neo to their fleet, which was the first of its kind to take off commercially in the U.S. on Nov. 30.

United Airlines officials said the new plane has eco-friendly engines that consume less fuel compared to previous models, contributing to lower operating costs and reduced environmental impact. The fleet will reduce fuel burn, nitrous oxide and noise by 20%.

What they’re saying

According to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the redevelopment project will bring nearly 3,000 new jobs to Houston, and the Terminal B renovation project will amplify Houston's reputation as a “premier destination and cultivate even more opportunity for economic development—just in time for the World Cup.”

“We have something that we say in the city of Houston: ‘You either go big, or go home,’” Turner said. “Today, with United [Airlines], we are choosing to go big.”

Diaz said that by 2024, IAH will be opening Terminal D-West Pier with six international gates.

Additionally, Diaz noted the new airport process of the Federal Inspection Services building is set to complete by 2025. The FIS building will combine international carriers' check-in areas into one central place, allowing terminals to focus only on gate operations, according to the Houston Airport Systems officials.

Diaz expresses his delight on the future of Houston air travel.

“To New York, to Chicago, to L.A., watch out, because Houston is going to win,” Diaz said.

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