“Hub” is something of a trendy term these days. Most of us are probably familiar with the term through the computer – a USB hub is a thingummy that you can stick a whole lot of USB devices (e.g. your mouse, your MP3 player, two memory sticks/pen drives and a web cam). You might also have come across the term in the context of a “shopping hub”. And if you’re flying internationally and have to take several connecting flights to get where you really want to go, you may have heard about hub airports.
All these terms are metaphors that derive from the image of a wheel, where you’ve got the hub in the middle and the spokes coming out from it. Alternatively, you can say that the spokes meet and connect at the hub. And that’s the general idea: a hub is anywhere that several similar things meet together. A hub airport, therefore, is a larger airport where a lot of flights and airlines meet. Most big international airports tend to be hub airports, but some hubs are more significant on an international scale than others.
How can you tell if an airport’s a hub airport? If you find yourself travelling from Country A to Country B but have to change flights at an airport in Country C, the chances are that the airport in Country C is a hub airport. A lot of flights go into (out of) that airport from (to) a whole lot of different places.
You might not know this – I didn’t until recently – that a lot of the major airlines in the world are part of a global alliance. There are three global airline alliances, and the chances are that when you have to change airlines when you take a connecting flight, the airlines you fly with are likely to be from the same alliance – more of this in another post – and these alliances tend to meet up at “super-hubs” or “fortress hubs” where the members of the alliances are likely to make connections with each other and share facilities.
So if you’re flying out of Australia, what hub airports are you likely to pass through on your way from A to B? Sydney Airport is a major hub airport in the Asia-Pacific region that is one of the fortress hubs for the Oneworld alliance. You can probably think of a few others: Hong Kong International Airport, Dubai (the major hub for Emirates), Singapore, JFK in New York, London’s Heathrow and Los Angeles Airport are just a few. Hong Kong, Dubai and Heathrow are considered super-hubs, because so many airlines stop there to make connections.
The fact that Hong Kong and Dubai are “halfway to everywhere” has certainly helped build the hub status of these airports and indeed these countries. Would any or many of us ever had gone through or even heard of Dubai or Hong Kong if it wasn’t for a connecting flight going through there? Certainly, about twenty or so years ago before Emirates really took off (figuratively and literally), nobody had even heard of Dubai. Now everybody knows about it and the government has really made the most of the airport’s hub status and has turned the United Arab Emirates into a tourist destination in its own right. Hong Kong has been a hub for a lot longer – it was used as shipping hub and its strategic location as the gateway to the Far East was one of the reasons Mother England and China got into a scrap over it, with the end result that they agreed to share, Hong Kong being a British colony for 100 years and then being handed over to China in 1997.
However, it would be fair to say that any international airport can be a hub airport, as those who have sat around in a transit lounge waiting for a connecting flight can tell you.