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Behind the scenes as United Airlines manages busy Memorial Day travel

More than 37 million people are expected to travel over the holiday period, including 3.4 million air passengers.

HOUSTON, Texas — It's referred to as the central nervous system for United at Bush Intercontinental.

The Station Operations Center (SOC) is responsible for around-the-clock on-the-ground operations and manages arrivals and departures at one of the airline’s biggest hubs.

"Safety is our number one priority and then efficiency is a close number two,” said SOC senior manager Daniel Reed.

Reed spoke with KHOU 11 during our first exclusive stop behind the scenes amid the Memorial Day travel period.

He said overseeing so-called “turn times” is a major duty - from boarding and deplaning to restocking aircraft with food and water before the next flight.

It also includes dealing with any issues that may come up including weather.

“I mean, there are no surprises at the airport," said Reed.  "Things go wrong regularly.”

Reed said busy holiday weekends like this one are even more challenging with more people flying.

According to United, the number of planes in the air has actually decreased while the number of passengers has gone up.

They’re just flying on fewer yet bigger planes with more capacity.

United’s Virtual Ramp Tower, or VRT, has a bird’s eye view of every gate at Bush displayed on two arrays of big screens showing 14 camera angles each.

"This is only one of two VRTs in the United States," said VRT manager Sara Smasal.

Not only does United manage what’s happening at its gates from the VRT but those of other airlines as well.

"We are the body that communicates directly to the pilots whenever they’re ready for pushback or when they come in, we taxi them to park,” said Smasal.

Basically, air travel requires a lot of work before and after a plane is ever in the air.

United told us it set a record Friday at Bush, where 30,000 passengers originated from on a single day for the first time.

Meanwhile, AAA expects around 42 million people to travel during the Memorial Day period.

Some 37 million will drive more than 50 miles or more while 3.4 million are expected to fly.

That's an 11% increase compared to 2022.

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