A man walks through an empty terminal at the George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Texas in June 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty

United Airlines’ daily direct flights from Merida to Houston are set to resume — with a start date that’s been hard to pin down — and American files to Miami again starting Oct. 8, restoring two major gateways for expats in Yucatan.

(Earlier this week, United’s website had offered flights beginning Saturday, and then Oct. 1, but their highly fluid schedule has since been revised again, so beware before booking.)

A Houston-based United Airlines spokesperson said the airline is now operating about 235 flights a day out of Houston, compared to 545 a day before COVID-19. He said there is no projection for if or when United would resume that original workload.

Houston Intercontinental is the second-largest passenger hub for United Airlines, behind Chicago–O’Hare. Miami is the largest hub for American Airlines’ flights to Latin America.

The airline is one of three major carriers that have renewed international travel at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport after COVID-19 decimated air travel. At the height of the downturn in April, Houston experienced a 95% decline in air traffic.

“This is a shock to the aviation industry unlike any we’ve seen before,” said Molly Waits, director of air service development for Houston airports.

Despite still seeing lower numbers of passengers year-over-year, consumer confidence is rebounding: as of July, passenger air travel is down 75% compared to July 2019, but up steadily each month since April.

Air France, Qatar Airways, and United Airlines have already shown a rebound in Houston’s connectivity to European, Middle Eastern and Latin American destinations.

Related: International flights from Yucatan make a gradual comeback
and As Merida airport rebuilds, AA makes plans for a comeback

Flights will not be as full as they were a year ago. Waits believes fewer fellow travelers, combined with airport and airline carrier health and safety procedures, make customers feel more comfortable flying.

“We’re not looking to grow in spite of safety. We’re looking to grow while we’re being incredibly safe for our passengers,” she said.

Nearly two-thirds of the airlines providing international service at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) have now been restored.

In Texas, Houston has the most airlines providing service to Mexico. Some airlines — VivaAerobus and Volaris — are even adding new service to select destinations they had not previously served from Houston, according to Bernal.

“We are an international city with an economy that thrives on global connectivity,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote in a statement. “These significant steps in restoring air service will help Houston begin to recover from the economic challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. I can assure you that this meaningful and significant restoration of international air-service is being matched with a strong emphasis on safety.”

Some of the major international destinations now available again include Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel, Puerto Vallarta, Aruba, Liberia, Costa Rica; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Amsterdam, Dubai, Istanbul, Paris, Taipei and Toronto.

With information from KHOU-TV

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