Houston William P. Hobby Airport (HOU/KHOU) is the second largest airport in Houston, which is the biggest city in Texas. HOU airport handled about 6.4 million passengers in 2020 (a significant reduction from pre-COVID) which nevertheless still placed it as the 33rd busiest airport in the United States that year.
The first aircraft operations started here in 1927, when the airfield was still a private flight area. The first commercial airlines to serve this airfield were Braniff and Eastern Air Lines and back in 1937 the airfield was acquired by the city of Houston. From this point on, the airfield was extended partly and became Houston’s main airport in the early postwar times. In 1950, Pan Am launched the first international flight with its service to Mexico City and the passenger numbers were exploding. Due to the rapid growth a new terminal was opened in 1954 and the airport became Houston International Airport . In 1957, KLM introduced the first intercontinental service to Amsterdam using initially the DC-7 and later the DC-8, with a stopover in Montreal. The airport was renamed after the former Texas governor William P. Hobby in 1967, whose name it still has today, but Hobby’s maximum capacity was reached.
That’s why another big airport for Houston was built, which was opened in 1969. All scheduled flights were transferred to Houston Intercontinental Airport (later George Bush Intercontinental Airport = IAH/KIAH) then, but Hobby airport was reopened for scheduled flights in 1971 as an addition to Houston’s new airport, which was already too busy itself. From this point on, Houston has used these two airports, but the traffic was separated regarding to special aspects – IAH is being used by all intercontinental flights today and operates as a United Airlines hub, while HOU is used by a few domestic airlines (mainly Southwest Airlines which operates a hub there). It is also the busiest gateway for corporate and private traffic to Houston, and there are a large number of business jet movements here on any given day.
William P. Hobby Airport is the home of Southwest Airlines in southeastern Texas and its Houston hub. Southwest is the dominant carrier here, but there are also multiple daily operations by Delta (from Atlanta) and American Eagle (regional partner service from Dallas-DFW). Additionally, there are multiple weekly visits from Allegiant Air and various charter airlines such as iAero Airways (formerly Swift Air). Sometimes you’ll also see some military activity at HOU, but this is quite rare.
Written by Severin Hackenberger and Bas Velders in cooperation with Craig Sieminski (local spotter). Last Update: February 2022
How was your trip? Rate this airport!
| (7 votes, average: 2.71 out of 5)
|04/22||2317m x 46m Asphalt|
|13R/31L||2317m x 46m Creton|
|13L/31R||1569m x 30m Asphalt|
|17/35||1829m x 46m Creton|
|Central concourse||~30 gates for domestic flights|
|International concourse||hand full gates for intl. flights|
|Ladder||Can be helpful sometimes along the fence, but the USAGE of ladders IS NOT RECOMMENDED in the US anyway. If used, ladders should always be placed at least 10 feet away from the perimeter fence. Use them at your own risk.|
|Car/Public Transport||Car is recommend as public transport are limited. Uber or Lyft are usually decent options.|
|Restrooms||Around the airport there are just a few restaurants, shops and similar, where restrooms can be found. Apart from this, those can be found inside the terminal. Restrooms can also be found inside the 1940 Air Terminal Museum on the western airport perimeter, although there is a $5 fee (as of 2022) to enter.|
|Drinks/Food||Around the airport are just a few hotels, restaurants, shops and similar, where food and drinks can be found. But apart from this, they can be found inside the terminal of course.|
|Hotels||There are a number of hotels/motels very close to the airport. Apart from this you’ll find a lot inside the nearby city area.|
|Season||The best time to visit Houston is during the winter months, typically from October through April/May. Daytime temperatures are usually pleasant and there is a good probability of sunny weather and low humidity. During the summer months (June through September) the climate is hot and humid and the sun is high overhead much of the day.|
|4/22||Runway 4 is used for arrivals very frequently, particularly during summer months. Runway 22 is used much less frequently, only when dictated by winds. Both runway directions may be used for arrivals. Departures occur from Runway 22 more frequently than from Runway 4, which typically only sees some business jet departures.|
|13R/31L||Runway 13R is the most common runway used by mainline and business jet arrivals when winds are out of the southeast. Runway 13R is also heavily used for departures, particularly when the crossing Runway 4 is in use for arrivals. The reciprocal Runway 31L comes in play for most arrival traffic during northwest winds, which are more frequent during the winter months, especially after a cold front has passed through. If the winds are particularly strong, 31L will also be used for most departures.|
|13L/31R||Runway 13L/31R is used in parallel with 13R/31L, but only for lighter piston/turboprop traffic. Mainline and regional jets do not use this runway.|
|17/35||Runway 17/35 is comparatively rarely used, mostly used for smaller business jet departures and arrivals. Mainline (Southwest Airlines) operations have been observed from Runway 35, but the conditions necessitating this are extremely rare.|
|Spot #1 – NW Viewing area “Lockheed Avenue”|
|WHERE||This spot is located at HOU’s northwestern end by the roadside of “Lockheed Avenue”. There you’ll find a parking area, which was built to watch airplanes during arrival and departure from Runway 13R (and 13L). You can easily park your car there and search your favourite position around the parking lot.
For a better angle, you might leave the parking and go away in the southwestern direction some meters from the arrival path – it’s up to you. Another good vantage point of airborne arrival traffic to Runway 13R is from the extreme northern corner of Travelair Street.
|WHAT||Arrivals onto runway 13R, 13L and 17 and (with a ladder or a thin lens to fit through the chain link fence). You can also take pictures of lineups onto Runway 13R as well as runway 17.|
|TIME||Runway 13R/L: During the winter, the light is favorable here from about 11:00 to sunset. During the summer, the sun does not come around until after 13:00, and then it is good until sunset.
Runway 17: From mid day until sunset–typically another hour or two after 13R/13L.
|MISC.||Ladder or standing on car needed for groundshots only, if your lenses isn’t thin enough to fit through the fence holes – No ladder is needed for normal arrival shots as long as you are positioned far enough back from the fence. Enough parking possibilities around the spot and everything nearby like restrooms and stores.|
|Spot #2 – Travelair Street|
|WHERE||This spot applies to either the parking lot directly across Travelair Street from the 1940 Air Terminal Museum or inside the museum parking lot itself (when the gate is open). Your exact position depends on the angle and moment you want to catch on your pictures as well needed to avoid interference from the power lines along Travelair Street (the museum parking lot avoids these power lines).|
|WHAT||Departures on runway 31L during northwest flow, as well as rare (and close) Runway 35 departures|
|TIME||From approximately 11:00 to sunset during the winter, or 13:00 to sunset during the summer months|
|MISC.||No ladder absolutely needed here, but useful for a higher vantage point if you want to get shots with the terminal building and gates in the background. There are enough parking possibilities around the spot, and there are restrooms inside the museum although there is normally a $5 (as of 2022) entry fee. The time to take your photos is very limited from the parking lot across Travelair Street due to disturbing power lines and blockage by the museum building itself. There is a better perspective from the northern side of the museum building while the museum parking lot is open.|
B738 departing 31L = 200mm / A320 departing 31L = 230mm
|Spot #3 – Telephone Road driveway|
|WHERE||This spot is located on the east (airport) side of Telephone Road between the intersections of Sandgate Rd. and Brisbane St. or at its eastern side (at the junction with “Brisbane drive”). Once you have arrived there are two options to choose of:
|WHAT||Arrivals to Runway 4 (and some apron actions as well from the eastern side/1st option).|
|TIME||Highly dependent on season. During the winter, the position is of limited to no use. Summer is the best time of year for this position, as the light is good from 14:00 or even earlier, until sunset.|
|MISC.||No ladder needed for arrival shots except if the ground/horizon is desired for background. Ladder or car top can also be useful to get arrival shots with a bit of background from the eastern side (like the B757 example shot), and there is no need to place the ladder close to the fence for these. There aren’t many parking possibilities around the spot except for on the side of the paved driveway on the east side of Telephone Rd. Restrooms and snacks are available at the recently constructed Exxon gas station on the western side of Telephone Rd, just north of this spot.
DURING RUSH HOUR YOUR VIEW MIGHT BE DISTURBED BY ALL THE VEHICLES PASSING IN FRONT THE SPOT AT THE WESTERN SIDE/2ND OPTION! Be aware of their heat distortions as well!
B737-700 = 145mm
|Spot #4 – Bulge/Turnoff on Braniff Street|
|WHERE||This spot is located near Telephone Rd along the side of Braniff St, which runs along the southern perimeter of Hobby Airport. You can park your car by the roadside in the neighborhood easily (for example near the intersection of Braniff St and Old Telephone Rd). Then search your favourite position in the area, which may vary due to the presence of power lines along Braniff St.|
|WHAT||Morning arrivals to Runway 4; most 22 departures will be too high.
You might also catch rare arrivals to Runway 35 from here.
|TIME||04/22: Sunrise until about 14:00 most of the year.
17/35: From mid afternoon until sunset.
|MISC.||No ladder is needed. There is a Gulf gas station just a few meters away along Telephone Rd; for more facilities a car is needed. Heat haze might be a problem on hot days. As of late 2021/early 2022, there was construction occurring along Braniff St in this area which may complicate parking.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||150 – 350mm
B737-700 = 210mm / Beech 200 = ~300mm / Gulfstream 5 = 240mm
|Spot #5 – Roadside|
|WHERE||This spot is no exact position, either along Braniff Street, which runs south of Hobby airport and can be entered easily from the busier Telephone Road, or at the junction of Braniff Street and Old Telephone Rd. After you reached the destination area, you can choose between two positions:
|WHAT||Aircraft lining up onto Runway 35 via the last taxiways as well as very late vacators from Runway 17 after landing.|
|TIME||Depending on the exact angle the aircraft are taxiing and being shot, but best time is around midday – of course, you can also take shots during other times of day, but then it’s required that the aircraft is turning into an exact position and so on…|
|MISC.||Ladder definitely needed or at least a car top to get over the two fences here! So you need an object where you can stand on to take your pictures (we used a 1,80 m high car top for our example shot below). If you go a few meters to the right, the second fence should be gone, so you could spot the aircraft easier, but then there is no possibility to park your car by the roadside at. Spotting right by the fence with a high ladder is not recommended. If you use the car top, KEEP A LOW PROFILE – only climb it, when the aircraft are coming!
Heat haze can be a problem here on hot days. A gas station is just a few meters away, for more facilities a car is needed.
PC12 = ~310mm / Hawker 800XP = ~280mm
|Spot #6 – A Avenue|
|WHERE||This spot is located along A Avenue, which connects with Randolph Street coming from the south. The spot can reached easily with a car, but parking for a long time is difficult here and not recommended, but you’ll mostly just stop here briefly as there is not much action here. Once you reached the area, you can vary the photo position along the roadside/fence.
|WHAT||Aircraft on the apron in front – parked and taxiing aircraft.|
|TIME||Depending on the exact angle, but mostly better around midday.|
|MISC.||Ladder (or at least a car top) needed to get over the fence well, but you can also take pictures through the fence holes. There are no facilities nearby except the gas stations mentioned for other spots. Never place a ladder close to the fence, and keep low/brief profile here.|
ERJ175 = 30mm
|Spot #7 – Southeast Viewing area|
|WHERE||This is arguably the best location for photos at Hobby Airport. It is at the extreme southeast end of the airport perimeter along Braniff Street just west of its intersection with Monroe Blvd. There is a small gravel parking lot on the western side of the approach to Runway 31L. Although members of the public sometimes drive and park on the grass on either side of Braniff St, this is frowned upon by the airport authorities. An alternative location for a more distant vantage point of arrivals is on the small triangle bounded by Braniff St on the north and Jet Pilot St on the southern and western sides. There are “No Parking” signs here but one can easily walk to this location and set up a chair.|
|WHAT||Arrivals to Runways 31L and 31R during northwest flow operations.|
|TIME||Runway 31L and 31R are most frequently used during the winter months, dependent on winds. As with southeast flow, the best light occurs from 11:00 until sunset during the winter and from about 13:00 until sunset during the summer.|
|MISC.||No ladder needed at all. There are enough parking possibilities here, but the facilities for food and drinks are a bit further away – a car is useful for them.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||You should need a 70-300mm lens (regarding to Jetphotos.net) /// B737-700 (from the parking area directly) = 90mm|
Most example shots were taken from the parking area, so for a better angle you might go some meters away from the arrival path.
|Spot #8 – Randolph Street – Wilson Air Center|
|WHERE||This spot is located at the end of Randolph Street and can only be entered from the southern direction, from Braniff Street. After you enter Randolph Street it will lead you to the Wilson Air Center at the street’s northern end. The street is a dead end road ending at the mentioned Air Center. After you have reached the street’s end, parking is very difficult and may cause problems however you do it – here are two options:
This location is best thought of as useful to photograph a particularly special aircraft, and then leave. It is not good for long-term spotting.
|WHAT||All activities on runway 31L/13R, the nearby taxiways as well as parts of GA aprons around the spot.|
|TIME||Apron northwest of this spot might be better in the morning or around early midday, but the runways (both of the 13/31) and taxiways in front will be good from late morning till sunset.|
|MISC.||Ladder or car top needed (to stand on) for ground shots, if your lenses aren’t thin enough to fit through the fence holes. At the end of the street there are also street barriers that you might stand on to spot from, but this option is also very conspicuous.
Heat haze can be a problem on hot days. Sometimes you’ll also see a security guard or a Air Center staff member passing by because of the nearby GA hangar. Some of them are cool and chill, but some are also rude and aggressive. Mostly they’ll just ask you what you’re doing here or to remove your car from where you have parked it. Always be polite and have your ID with you when spotting here. Remember that you do not have a right to be here, so leave when asked.
B727 = 130mm
Example shots were taken from a car top right next to the fence:
|Spot #9 – Red parking garage|
|WHERE||This spot is located on the top floor of the red parking garage, which is located north of the normal passenger terminal complex. You can easily enter the garage from the main Hobby Airport Loop, which runs along the terminal on the departure level – you should also be able to park your car inside this garage. Enter the parking garage and go up to the fourth floor, where you can search your favourite position along the front railing of the parking garage.
|WHAT||From here you’ll have a nice overview of some parts of the HOU apron as well as also of some runway parts and actions from here like Runway 4 departures/22 arrivals or 31L/R departures. But many actions are too far away and many departures are too high already.|
|TIME||This totally depends on the object you want to spot. But best time will be in early morning or late evening, when one of the two sides (eastern or western view) has good light and there is less heat haze. Spot is better in summer as the sun doesn’t come around that well in winter.|
|MISC.||No ladder is needed. Enough parking possibilities in the area here and all needed facilities for food/drinks are close by in the terminal.
Heat haze can be a problem on hot days. Sometimes you’ll also see a security guard passing by, but this normally doesn’t cause problems. Most of them are cool and chill and some of them just ask you what you’re doing here. Always be nice, but have your ID with you when spotting here.
B737 on taxiway = 205mm
Example shots were taken from the western front of the garage: