United Airlines expects normal flight operations in Houston by Friday

United Airlines expects to have all scheduled Houston flights back up and running by Friday, a little less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey halted flights to the city, United's second-largest hub.

Chicago-based United, which began gradually resuming flights when Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport reopened Wednesday, initially said its recovery could take weeks. On Friday, the airline said that process was moving faster than expected.

The airline expected to have about 330 flights take off from Houston's Bush Airport on Tuesday, about 73 percent of what it would operate on a typical day this time of year, said United spokesman Charlie Hobart.

Now, the airline is trying to reassure customers wary of cancellations when traveling through Houston. "Now that our systems are current and the schedule is in place, if the website says a flight is operating, we intend to operate it," Hobart said.

Ramping back up to its standard schedule is good news for United, which, along with Southwest Airlines, is expected to take a bigger financial hit from Harvey than competing airlines that are less reliant on Houston, according to airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co.

On a typical day, about 450 United flights depart Houston's Bush Airport. Southwest Airlines typically has about 152 flights depart Houston's William P. Hobby Airport and plans to be back to that schedule on Thursday, said spokeswoman Brandy King. As of Tuesday, Southwest was operating about 70 percent of those flights.

Last week, Becker estimated United and Southwest could take financial hits of about $266 million and $77 million, respectively, from canceled flights. Jet fuel prices jumped as well because refineries in the region affected by the hurricane shut down, but Becker said Tuesday that prices should decline as Houston recovers.

Delta Air Lines, which usually has just 30 daily departures at Bush Airport and seven at Hobby Airport, said its Houston schedule was back to normal. American Airlines, which has a similar number of daily departures at both airports, said it anticipated being back to its full regular schedule Wednesday.

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