Houston Terminal Makes the Grade

George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal B gets an A for its airy, bright space crammed with creature comforts

The ABCs of airport terminal design might go something like this: A is for airy, airport hold room that passengers want to spend time in; B is for bigger, better and brighter space; and C is for countless concessions and creature comforts.

And if that is how it goes, it is clear that United Airlines boned up on its ABCs when it renovated Terminal B at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). The new $95 million terminal, dedicated to United Express regional flights, is four times the size, offers 17 times the number of concessionaires, and features a spacious hold room with twice the seating and many, many more restrooms.

“This project is about improving the entire customer experience,” says Kate Gebo, United Airlines vice president of corporate real estate. “Terminal B was built with more of the features our customers told us they value. Our customers said they wanted better concessions, better connectivity, and a better place to relax in before their flights.”

The first phase of this project—15 completed gates—opened for business May 21. The airline will add 15 additional gates by year’s end. When complete, Terminal B will serve as the airline’s primary Houston facility for United Express flights operated by its regional partners (ExpressJet, SkyWest, Trans States and Shuttle America), which dispatch more than 300 flights from IAH daily.


New Lease, New Look

It’s safe to say that before renovations resurrected Terminal B and gave it a fresh and contemporary look, the space had seen better days. “It had been built in 1969, and it looked like it had been built in 1969,” says Gebo.

The dark, tight and cramped space had reached maximum capacity and lacked customer amenities, having just one concessionaire and a single men’s and lady’s restroom. Its two satellite pods were designed to accommodate narrow body aircraft, which was neither efficient nor effective for today’s airlines. It was, frankly, “tired, old and outdated,” says Mario Diaz, IAH director.

“After 42 years of existence it was in serious need of an upgrade … everything from baggage handling areas, passenger seating, electrical, plumbing, and cooling systems needed an update,” Diaz says.

Airport and city officials began discussions about giving the dingy, outdated terminal a sleek new look in 2008. In 2010, all parties involved agreed to a public-private partnership, or P3, where the city would pay $62 million for a new apron, ramp and taxiway and United would fund up to $100 million for an interior revamp as part of a new 20-year lease with IAH.


It’s Easy Being Green

Post Crescent Blogger Nick Mueller recently penned that a “sustainable building” doesn’t really feel like a building at all. Glass walls, he writes, allow for panoramic views and natural sunlight that streams in at every angle; paints and coatings have little to no smell, so fresh clean air is abundant; and building materials come from nearby sources.

His words certainly ring true in the new Terminal B. It’s bright, it’s airy and it’s sustainable. When all is said and done, United Airlines hopes to attain Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the project.

The new terminal is expected to consume 21 percent less energy than a conventionally built building by utilizing a daylight harvesting system that supplements interior lighting levels; a light shelf in the passenger hold room that reflects daylight deep into the interior; high-efficiency cooling equipment; and high-value insulation in the walls and roof.

Other energy-saving measures include: a building management system that senses both temperature and lighting conditions to produce only what’s required; a cool roof system that reflects 76 percent of the potential heat gain from sunlight; low-flow plumbing fixtures that reduce water usage by 40 percent; and building materials using at least 20 percent recycled content with no or low VOC content to improve indoor air quality.


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