Preparing planes: How United updated its disaster plan after Harvey

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Many homeowners and businesses took away lessons learned after Hurricane Harvey hit. That includes United Airlines.

Nearly a year after the storm, United has put together a larger emergency plan. To put it in perspective, their plan went from four pages to 14 pages.

United's Houston hub handles everything from maintenance and passenger services to disasters, such as a hurricane.

There are also gate managers who work to coordinate inbound and outbound aircraft at the gates.

The operations manager oversees everything.

During a disaster, the managers of each team and many other top United officials gather at the hub.

As Hurricane Harvey barreled in last year, the airliner had a massive mission.

"We are looking at our customers' safety, our employee safety and getting our assets out of town. It's a very difficult thing to do," said Mike Erbeck, the United Airlines Managing Director of Station Operations in Houston.

At five days out, United looked at reducing flight schedules.

At three days out, it reduced flight schedules on 100-seat aircraft, stopping them from coming to Houston. They also issued travel waivers.

Once it reached 48 hours out, only hub to hub travel was allowed. At 24 hours out, aircraft were flown out, as Harvey closed in.

"At the end of the day, we want to put these aircraft down where it makes sense, so when we turn it back on, we can get crews back on and to the stations as soon as possible," said Erbeck.

Erbeck says getting crews back out was the most challenging part, with many of United's staff impacted by the flooding.

Support staff from other cities were called in to help. It took days to open the airport.

Nearly a year after the storm, United's 14-page response plan now includes a support hub for employees, fuel trucks brought in for gas and renting vehicles to help with recovery efforts.

United also now has a hangar for FEMA to bring in supplies.

"This year, I feel even more prepared," said Erbeck.

United Airlines provided more than $4 million in support to Houston, which included rebuilding efforts.

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United Airlines has made several upgrades to its operations since Hurricane Harvey hit.

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