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Guide to George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

Serving the greater Houston area, and located approximately 23 miles (37 km) to the north of Houston, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is the busiest in the state of Texas in terms of passenger numbers and ranked 12th busiest in the U.S.A.

Originally called Houston Intercontinental Airport, but renamed in 1997 to honour Texan resident and former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, the airport operates domestic and international flights with destinations across five continents.

George Bush Airport is spread over approximately 10,000 acres of land and has five terminals containing 161 gates with aircraft taking off or landing on one of the five runways. The airport has the IATA (International Air Transport Association) designation code IAH which derives from the initials for Intercontinental Airport of Houston.

IAH Airport History

The George Bush Airport is a relative newcomer having first come into planning in 1957. Built to replace the old Houston International Airport, the site of the new airport became known as Jetero Airport due to a typing error on the planning documentation but was officially named the Houston Intercontinental Airport at the opening ceremony in 1969, two years later than originally scheduled.

The airport hit the ground running as all air traffic that used the old Houston International Airport transferred their operations and business to Bush Airport and many of the biggest American airlines now operated from the new airport.

These airlines included many of the major players such as:

  • American Airlines
  • Continental Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • National Airlines
  • Eastern Air Lines

To further improve the airport's standing even in the early days, Houston Airport was also responsible for a large number of international flights operated by leading airline companies. Even in the early seventies, Houston Airport had regular flights to:

  • Mexico City, Mexico (Pan American World Airways)
  • Amsterdam, Holland (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines)
  • Panama City, Panama (Braniff International)
  • Monterrey, Acapulco, Guadalajara, Mexico City (Aeronaves de Mexico)
  • Paris, France (Air France)

The already impressive list of well-established airlines operating out of Houston Airport was further enhanced with the addition of other notable operators such as Cayman Airways and British Caledonian in the late seventies and these were followed in the next few years by TWA, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Western Airlines.

Easy to Navigate Airport

Because of ever increasing passenger numbers, Houston Airport always seems to have redevelopment or extension work in progress which can hinder progress through the airport. In most cases, however, getting from one point to another is usually a simple matter as all five terminals are in close proximity to each other and all are attached to the main airport building.


Walking is the easiest option with the exception of Terminal A which cannot be accessed on foot. The airport has two methods of getting from one terminal to another should the distance be too great or too arduous whilst carrying baggage.


Almost a mile long and fully automated, the Skyway is a people mover system running on the north side of Houston Airport and serving all five terminals. It is an elevated rail which operates on the airside of the airport.


A separate people mover called the Subway is an alternative means of transport and is an underground system operating on the landside of the airport.

Both systems are free to use and have regular services every two to three minutes. The Skyway operates within the secure area of the airport while the Subway only runs outside security. The longest Skyway run (from Terminal A to Terminal D/E) can be covered in under five minutes and the time taken from one stop to the next on the Subway is three minutes.

Arriving Foreign Nationals

All foreign nationals arriving in the U.S.A. will require either a visa or ESTA approved passport regardless of the purpose of the visit or duration of stay. The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is applicable to citizens of countries that are party to the American Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which includes Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.

Procedure on Arrival

Travelers arriving on international flights will either enter George Bush Airport via Terminals D or E. Once on the ground, new arrivals will use the secure corridors and sky bridges to the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) where they pass through Passport Control and immigration checks before being allowed to continue on to the baggage claim area and then through customs.

In order to pass through customs travelers must present one of the following documents:

  • Customs Declaration form (if this was processed by an immigration official)
  • Global Entry kiosk receipt (if the traveler used Global Entry) - The Global Entry Program is available to citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries who travel frequently to the United States. Upon joining the program, a member's personal, biometric data and fingerprints are stored and can be rapidly retrieved at a Global Entry kiosk and verified by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents upon arrival at George Bush Airport and other major American airports.

Connecting Flights

If the airport is the final destination and not just to make a connection, then passengers simply walk straight ahead to the exit doors after clearing immigration and customs checks.

Transiting passengers, however, will need to turn to the right after customs and head for the appropriate security area to be rechecked before entering the secure area and making the onward connection.

Terminals and Associated Airlines

International flights arrive at Terminal D or E but there are no customs or immigration desks in Terminal D. Instead, passengers are directed to the relevant area in Terminal E or the purpose-built Federal Inspection Services (FIS) building nearby.

Terminals B and C are used solely by United Airlines while other airlines are assigned to the following:

Terminal A

WestJet, Frontier Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Air Canada, Southwest Airlines

Terminal B

United Airlines (Domestic flights)

Terminal C

United Airlines (Domestic flights)

Terminal D

AeroMexico, Air France, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, British Airways, Avianca, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, EVA Air, KLM, Interjet, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Volaris, Viva Aerobus

Terminal E

United Airlines (Domestic flights and international arrivals) and most international arrivals from all other airlines

While all airlines are assigned to a particular terminal as a general rule this is not always the case.

There is always the possibility of airlines or aircraft being reassigned on a temporary basis as circumstances change and the situation may demand.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

Transport options between Bush Intercontinental Airport and the city of Houston are, as would be expected, many and varied.


There are a number of METRO bus services running between Houston and the airport. One of the most popular is Bus 102 which runs from 05:00 to midnight with travel time taking from 50 to 90 minutes.

Ground Shuttle

Departing from Terminal C, the Ground Shuttle links to Easterwood Airport and College Station in Texas.


Several shuttle services to numerous destinations are available from each of the five terminals and can be located by following the “Ground Transportation” signage.


Taxi stands are located outside Terminals A, B, C and E. The trip to central Houston takes approximately 40 minutes depending on traffic and time of day.

It is also possible to arrange a ride-share to or from the airport as well-established operators such as Uber, Lyft, Get Me and Wingz all maintain a presence at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.