Ontario - ONT

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    Photo by  ERIC SALARD  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by ERIC SALARD via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Inland Empire lands its first Asian flight

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the airport at Ontario, California was a busy alternative to crowded Los Angeles International, and carriers like United, American, Western, and Continental ran mainline services to their national hubs, while regional carriers like PSA, AirCal, Hughes Airwest, and Alaska covered the West Coast.

ONT was managed by the same authority as LAX, and concentrated their investment on the latter airport, first to handle the surge of traffic for the 1984 Olympics and then to manage the consolidation of the airline industry: American, United, and Delta all wanted to establish hubs there. Ontario was assigned ever-higher cost burdens to help finance development at LAX, which drove traffic away. It took until the late 1990s for ONT to get a replacement for its 1960s-era terminal, and arguments about costs and local control continued into the 2010s, when the airport authority was devolved to Ontario and San Bernardino.

Image by  jennifer  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by jennifer via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Since its independence from LAX at the end of 2016, Ontario Airport has been working to lower its costs and attract new flights. The “Inland Empire” was hit hard by the 2008 Great Recession, but its recovery has been strong, and its location outside the road and rail snarls of Los Angeles proper – yet on the mainline interstates and railroads - has made it an important logistics hub: both UPS and FedEx have made ONT into key facilities for all Southern California.

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    Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census. 

Click to open the fascinating University of Virginia Cooper Center Map Project to visualize ethnic patterns from the 2010 Census. 

Asian-American communities have steadily grown on the eastern side of Los Angeles, in Orange County, and on the northern side of San Diego. These communities would like (and are willing to pay for) convenient flight options to East and Southeast Asia, but Santa Ana’s airport is locked in to a short runway and limited hours which prevents long-range flights, and San Diego’s configuration is adequate only for Japan Airlines’ 787 nonstop to Tokyo – nothing bigger or with longer range. Up until this point, that meant travelers would have to endure long highway journeys to LAX. ONT, however, is convenient to the I-15 and Cal-91/Cal-60 corridors, has a very long runway, and is not subject to noise or frequency restrictions. While it may be similar road mileage from these communities versus LAX, the driving time can be literally hours better.

ONT management has been touting these advantages to Asian carriers, and in September 2017 they reached agreement with Taiwan’s China Airlines to begin nonstop service to Taipei:

Beginning March 25, 2018, with four flights per week:

  • Flight CI 24 – Departs Taipei Taoyuan (TPE) 4:10 pm, arrives ONT 1:20 pm same day
  • Flight CI 25 – Departs ONT 3:45 pm, arrives TPE 8:55 pm next day

The arrival time at Taipei will allow same-evening connections to Bangkok and Hong Kong, while the afternoon departure from TPE connects in from those two cities as well as many more from Southeast Asia and mainland China.

It is expected frequency will eventually become daily on this service. China Airlines will use its Boeing 777-300 on the route.

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    Photo by  joolsgriff  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by joolsgriff via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

China Airlines’ SkyTeam partner, Delta, only flies to ONT from its hub in Salt Lake City, and the arrival/departure times for those flights would be terribly inconvenient to make connections (5-6 hour waits). So this flight is truly dedicated to serving local passenger and cargo customers for eastern L.A. and San Diego.

International Arrivals building. Image via Google Street View.

International Arrivals building. Image via Google Street View.

Customs Arrival

Ontario uses a dedicated, separate building for international arrivals needing Customs clearance. After landing, passengers will exit the airplane via stairs and walk outside on the apron to an enclosed walkway. Passport control is immediately inside, and then baggage claim. Passengers not needing to declare items at Customs may exit directly.

Average times to clear Customs at ONT currently run 15-30 minutes; on the lower end of the range for US citizens and the higher end for non-citizens. This is based off arrivals data for Aeromexico and Volaris flights coming in from Mexican cities – with the important note that those flights are on smaller 737 and A320 aircraft. China Airlines’ 777-300 will carry about twice as many passengers, so longer processing times should be expected. No other international arrivals will be taking place when the Taipei flight comes in, so this will help; we will need to see how US CBP staffs to serve this time of day to get a real sense of processing time.

There are no baggage recheck counters at the international arrivals building, or shops, just restrooms and doors outside to catch a shuttle bus to the other terminals, parking lots, and ground transportation center. The shuttle runs every 15-20 minutes, 24 hours per day.

Image via Google Maps. Click to expand view.

Terminal 2 entrance. Also via Google Maps Street View.
Image by  Vmzp85  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Navigating the airport

International departures from Ontario leave from Terminal 2, and SkyTeam partners Delta and Aeromexico are also housed there. Check-in is on ground level, with the security checkpoint upstairs and gates just beyond.

ONT’s terminals are laid out in a straight line, with gates on the air-side and services on the land-side. Terminal 2 at present has only 12 gates so walking distance is minimal. (Click here for a terminal map.)

Image by  Vmzp85  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Family-friendly amenities and hidden gems

The terminal was built with the intention of quickly moving passengers between the airplanes and parking lot – not for spending extended time there, or for making connections – so it’s a stripped-down building with just the basics. There aren’t any play facilities or kid-oriented artworks. There is a nursing area tucked in between the women’s restroom entrance and the vending machine complex across from Gate 207.

If your kids enjoy watching aircraft on the ramp and runways, the big windows do afford a good view of the action. The space just outside security gives the best panorama in Terminal 2.

Image by  Zhao Shouren  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Zhao Shouren via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by  Vmzp85  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Restrooms

Terminal 2 was opened in 1998 so restrooms are up to ADA standards. There is one family-size restroom directly across from Gate 206, between the ATM and the men’s restroom entrance.

Image by  Vmzp85  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Vmzp85 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Food and Shopping

At present there are only two prepared food outlets in Terminal 2 (one Mexican and one sandwich shop), plus an array of packaged-food vending machines. Likewise there is only one newsstand and one general-merchandise shop: nothing in particular oriented toward children, but more along the lines of last-minute needs, reading material, and gifts.

There is space in the concourse for additional food and retail, but traffic through the building needs to dramatically increase to attract and keep more tenants.

Connectivity

Wi-Fi is free and strong throughout the airport.

ONT is situated between Metrolink’s Riverside And San Bernardino lines, but neither has a station at the airport. The local bus system, Omnitrans, offers service every 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 4 along their route #61, which links the Pomona station on the Riverside line, and the Fontana station on the San Bernardino line. Bus route #80 with hourly service, reaches the Ontario Convention Center, Alta Loma, and Rancho Cucamonga.

Lodging

There are several family-friendly hotel chains nearby with free shuttle service to ONT, if you were going to drive in the night before your flight:

  • Holiday Inn Ontario Airport
  • Azure Hotel & Suites Ontario Airport
  • Best Western Plus Ontario Airport
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Ontario Airport
  • Residence Inn by Marriott Ontario Airport
  • Sheraton Ontario Airport
  • Embassy Suites Ontario Airport

See also…

ONT Wikipedia entry

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ontario-airport-20161101-story.html

https://www.dailybulletin.com/2017/09/29/china-airlines-announces-nonstop-weekly-flights-to-ontario-airport-in-spring-2018/

 

Houston - IAH

Image courtesy Visit Houston

Image courtesy Visit Houston

New flights power Asian connections through the Energy City

Houston’s historic importance as a center of energy production and logistics quickly put it on the post-World War II map of long-range flights from Europe and Latin America. Companies like Phillips 66, Conoco, Halliburton, and Occidental – and the contractors and suppliers who support them – send their people all over their world, often on short notice: they require frequent international service and are willing to pay well for it.

The city’s seaport and distribution infrastructure – and closeness to Mexico and the Caribbean – also gave it more of a global outlook, cuisine, and population. Yet it was not until after the Vietnam War and the emergence of the Four Tigers economies in the 1970s-80s when Houston started to pick up Asian influences and migration, and vibrant Vietnamese and Taiwanese communities developed in the southwest quarter of the metro area in the 1980s-90s.

Continental 777-200 at Narita Airport, preparing to depart for Houston

Continental 777-200 at Narita Airport, preparing to depart for Houston

It took until 1998 for Houston-headquartered Continental Airlines to start nonstop service to Tokyo, the city’s first air link of any kind to Asia.

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United and Continental merged, moving their headquarters to Chicago but keeping Houston as a mega hub. While United has not added any more nonstop flights to East Asia, they have encouraged their Star Alliance partners to come to Houston, so today IAH has daily or near-daily service to:

  • Tokyo Narita – on United and also ANA-All Nippon Airways
  • Beijing – with Air China
  • Taipei – on EVA Air
  • Singapore – with Singapore Airlines (this flight stops in Manchester, England on the way)

From these four hub cities, nearly any point in East and Southeast Asia can be reached in just one stop.

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Domestically, United covers all major US cities from IAH and regional destinations in Texas, the Southwest, and the Gulf Coast. These areas, and Florida, are best-positioned to use Houston as a connecting point for flights to Asia.

Delta, American, and Spirit also send numerous flights into IAH, but don’t have international partners flying there to take you to Asia via Houston. Finally, Southwest doesn’t fly to IAH at all, as they have a significant base at Hobby Airport on the south side of the city.

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Customs Arrival

International arrivals for the Asian carriers pull up to gates in Terminal D, where mid-level walkways and bridges direct passengers through the building, across the street, and into the central Customs checkpoint.

Image of Terminal E courtesy Visit Houston

Image of Terminal E courtesy Visit Houston

Passengers arriving on United’s flight dock at Terminal E, where they ascend a level and walk above that concourse to get to the same central Customs area.

Passport checks take place on the upper level, and then passengers go down a floor to the baggage claim and Customs inspection area. For travelers not flying onward, there are exits from this point to the arrivals area on the ground floor of Terminal E. For people connecting to other flights, turn right after Customs for baggage re-check stations and then security screening. Once through TSA screening, you will come out into a corridor linking the D and E gates, with the Skyway train station just around the corner.

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Click this map to open a new window for detailed maps on the airport's official site.

Click this map to open a new window for detailed maps on the airport's official site.

Navigating the airport

One thing is certain when flying from or connecting through IAH: there’s almost always going to be a lot of walking.

The airport opened in 1969, before the days of security checks or massive airline hub operations, so the original Terminals A and B were small, separate buildings each with four “banjo” concourses tucked in close.  By the early 1980s this arrangement was clearly impossible to manage for Continental’s growing hub, so they built Terminal C further east.  Terminal D opened in 1990, then Terminal E in 2002.

In 2018, only two "banjos" remain, on the north side of Terminal B. These will get torn down in the early 2020s and replaced with more-conventional concourses.

In 2018, only two "banjos" remain, on the north side of Terminal B. These will get torn down in the early 2020s and replaced with more-conventional concourses.

The terminals are spread so far apart because they are sitting between the airport’s east-west runways, and concourses can only extend outward by a few airplanes’ wingspans before blocking taxiways. Likewise, creating one central terminal is impossible because of how the roadways and tunnels were laid out in the 1960s. In fact, the airport has run out of room and cannot add any more terminal buildings to the east – so they have been progressively re-constructing the terminals and gate areas to become more efficient.  IAH is about halfway through that process, and it will take well into the 2020s for all its parts to be rebuilt.

The C-North gates have breathtaking design with lots of open space - the model for what the B-North and D gates will look like in about ten years...

The C-North gates have breathtaking design with lots of open space - the model for what the B-North and D gates will look like in about ten years...

United’s operation in Houston is so large that it now uses all the B, C, and E gates, and many of the northern A gates as well. Delta, American, Spirit, Air Canada, Alaska, Frontier, and other US and Canadian carriers use gates in the A complex, while all the overseas and Mexican carriers use the D gates.

So even for a United-United connection it is entirely possible you may arrive at gate A1 and depart from gate E19. Thankfully, all gates can be reached without having to leave the secure area.

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Skyway shuttle trains run along the north side of the complex, with one station in Terminal A, B, and C, and a station between Terminals D and E. These trains are quick and frequent and afford a pretty good view of the runways and ramp on the north half of the airport. From one end to the other is about a 5-minute ride.

Corridor connecting the E-gate concourses

Corridor connecting the E-gate concourses

However, even using the Skyway train, there is still considerable walking needed along the C and E gates. And if you are using United Express service leaving from the B gates (especially B1-B31), those are also a long walk from the Skyway station. For domestic-domestic, or domestic-international connections, we would advise using no less than a full hour and preferably 90 minutes between flights.

The one case where you won’t have too far to walk is if you are being dropped off on the ground floor of Terminal D to check in for your flight – in that case the gates are immediately above the ticket counters and security checkpoint.

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Family-friendly amenities and hidden gems

IAH has no children’s play areas and no consistent safe stretches of space where kids can run around to burn off steam while waiting for boarding. Even open gate areas in the C14-C15 or D1-2-3 stretches will see a steady stream of cart traffic and just enough people trying to sleep to keep them “no fly zones” for children.

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The international gates east of the small food court, D7 – D12, have several interesting child-height art installations and occasionally someone playing the grand piano.

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Over in Terminal A, the Skyway train station is full of eye-catching star sculptures, and the walkway between the north and south gate areas holds many sculptures under Plexiglas at kids’ eye level.  There are also musical performances scheduled in the north-side food court. (And here is a link to the full portfolio of artwork)

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Mindworks, near gate E9, is a small but well-stocked kids’ shop with toys and aerospace / NASA gear; well worth a visit if you are in the E gates or even the C30-C40 area.

Surprisingly missing is any exhibit from NASA/Johnson Space Center – in contrast to the two locations Kennedy Space Center has in the Orlando terminal. There is plenty of open-air space in the E gates, the C-North gates, and the ticket hall of Terminal D for them to mount full-sized spacecraft replicas!

 

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Restrooms

Just as the gate areas are being progressively torn down and rebuilt, so are the restrooms. The newest parts of the complex (A-gates, E-gates, B1-B31 United Express holdroom, and the C-North gates) have been built with conveniently-located family restrooms.

The C-North / E / new B mens’ and womens’ lavatories also have more stalls and more room in each stall for stowing carry-on bags up off the floor (or for managing children if need be.)

D-gate restroom entrance

D-gate restroom entrance

The restrooms in the international D-gate areas are adequate in periods of average traffic, but starting to show their age and not up to the same standard as the ones in the E-gates, plus there are no family facilities in that stretch. This could lead to long waits if several flights are leaving around the same time.

Typical stall in the E-gates; note the small shelf above the toilet for storage.

Typical stall in the E-gates; note the small shelf above the toilet for storage.

Restroom repair and cleanliness is also uneven across the terminals – the newest are simply built better for the traffic they get, so they are easier to maintain.

 

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Food and Shopping

Thankfully, great food options for any palate or food requirement are available throughout the complex, and since you’ll be walking anyway, you’ll get to see a wide spectrum of choices. The local cuisines of East Texas and the Gulf are well-represented, from steakhouse to Tex-Mex, Cajun/Creole, Vietnamese, and seafood.

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National chains are well-represented, and the airport is rolling out many sit-down restaurants that use the popular order-from-iPad service format. There are also several shops to pick up fresh fruit and deli sandwiches.

Shopping options include the usual newsstand, electronics, cosmetics, sunglasses, and luxury-goods choices, but you’ll also find more than the usual number of clothing stores.

IAH is piloting an interesting twist to shopping: certain merchants will let you use your MileagePlus points toward payment!

IAH is piloting an interesting twist to shopping: certain merchants will let you use your MileagePlus points toward payment!

 

Connectivity

Wi-Fi is free and strong throughout the airport.

Houston has a metro rail system, but has not extended it out to IAH – it might get there by 2035, according to the latest long-range plan. There is a bus route to downtown, but it does not go near the Convention Center or main bank of hotels. SuperShuttle, taxi, or private car are the only realistic options for fast ground transport.

 

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Lodging

If you need to stay overnight before or after your trip, the Houston Airport Marriott is located between Terminals B and C, and can be reached from any terminal via underground Subway (catch it on level LL below baggage-claim). Many rooms have a good view of the ramp! For its convenient location, it does claim a premium price.

Lower-priced national chain locations with family-friendly amenities and free shuttles to IAH would include the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott, DoubleTree by Hilton, Country Inn & Suites, La Quinta Inn, Hampton Inn, and Courtyard by Marriott.

 

See also…

Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport official website

IAH Wikipedia entry