Preparing the new international terminal at Houston Hobby (HOU) has been three years in the making, and its doors (and skies) are now officially open for business thanks to the help of more than 800 hardworking People. Being Southwest’s first international terminal, the Southwest Facilities Team faced new obstacles, including the question “what does it take to open an international-capable terminal?”
The Team had to prepare typical airport needs: TSA security, chairs, outlets, restrooms, jet ways, and gates (among many others). But they also had to consider something else: Federal Inspection Stations (FIS), also known as “Customs.” Without this element of security, Southwest would be unable to fly internationally from the terminal.
When most people think of Customs, they picture a booth where they check your passport and you claim items. Little do they know what’s going on behind the scenes. In order for a terminal to clear international flights for take-off and landing, the facility has to have appropriate spaces designated for photo kiosks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Wildlife Commission, dog kennels, passport stations, and luggage scanning.
What does the FDA have to do with travel? Why are there dog kennels at an airport? The answer is simple: Passenger Safety. It’s illegal to transport agriculture, weapons, certain medicines, and various paraphernalia from other countries. These agencies search and prevent these items from being brought into the country. Their presence in the terminal is vital to ensuring the safety of our land and skies.
The Customs area in the international terminal of Houston Hobby is approximately 70,000 square feet and completely separate from the domestic terminal baggage claim. It can accommodate 800 travelers per hour, has three baggage carousels, and four dog kennels. It’s designed to prevent any illegal or potentially dangerous items from coming into the country.
Next time you go through Customs at an airport, take a look around you at all the moving pieces. It’s hard to believe so much is going on behind-the-scenes!