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New Houston to Texarkana route belies trend

by Les Minor | November 29, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.

TEXARKANA -- The airport here is bucking a trend. It will add a new passenger route to Houston in February.

This is old news. It was first reported in late October that a subsidiary of United Airlines would create a new route from here to Houston that would allow passengers to go there in back the same day.

Leave at 7 a.m. be back by 7:30 p.m.

What is interesting, though, is that since then United has closed down almost a dozen routes serving smaller cities. According to several media outlets, including BusinessInsider.com, Texarkana Regional Airport is very much the exception.

The other routes were slashed by United for lack of demand. (Other airlines have done the same.)

So what made Texarkana so different?

A government underwrite of almost $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation is making the route possible.

The Texarkana to George Bush International Airport is basically is a test ride to see if there is enough demand here for passenger service to Houston to make it worthwhile for United to continue these flights after the $884,722 grant is gone. It is basically a federal guarantee that the carrier will not lose money on the deal -- no matter what percentage of the seats are occupied.

For years, Texarkana's only commercial flight options were the three American Airlines flights a day to Dallas-Fort Worth, scaled down at times during the pandemic.

A route to Houston, with a population of nearly 2.5 million people, hasn't been tested since 2008. Beyond this massive city as its own draw, the daily flight to George Bush International Airport would connect Texarkanato 135 destinations with a single stop, including six domestic routes and 13 international routes.

"Houston, Texas is a top destination for travelers within our market, so we are thrilled that this new nonstop service will provide more travel options to take our passengers where they want to go," said Paul Mehrlich, executive director for the Texarkana Regional Airport Authority, earlier this year.

But what has largely remained unsaid about this opportunity is that Texarkana and the region is serves has to demonstrate that that it can fill seats after the incentive is gone.

United has closed 11 small-city routes. It has added one -- thanks to the Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Program that makes a start-up like this possible.

It is that guarantee that makes this route possible. It will be Texarkana consumer demand that determines if this is a one-and-done deal or if it will take flight beyond the scope of this one-year federal boost.

With the new route ready to roll out and construction on the new passenger terminal underway, officials think a yearly increase of 10,000 people flying out of Texarkana is within reach. If so, maybe instead of bucking the trend we'll be setting it.

Long-term success is what Texarkana officials and airport officials have said all along is the preferred destination.

Print Headline: New Houston to Texarkana route belies trend

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