Update (1/2020): We just released a brand new report examining the recent ridehail changes at LAX – you can read more about it here.
Harry here. After the party hours, airport runs can be some of the most lucrative for drivers. Today, RSG contributor Bill Tesauro breaks down how and where to find these rides AND shares a handy spreadsheet that lists the rules and regulations for all the top airports in the country.
Ask an Uber driver where the easiest money is, and a lot of them will say “at the airports.” Airport runs are predictable. Business travelers depart early in the week on Monday afternoons or Tuesday morning and arrive home Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings like clockwork. And the best part for some is that you don’t have to deal with drunks.
From the rider perspective, getting an Uber or Lyft from the airport is more convenient than ever! The plane lands, you flip off airplane mode, grab overhead bin bags, exit to the luggage carousel, and order an Uber while waiting.
For drivers looking beyond our hands on the wheel at 10 & 2, it’s a bit more complicated though. Stories abound of being stopped, detained, and fined, then cars impounded due to local airport servicing being off limits unbeknownst to drivers of course. LAX / ATL / DTW / EWR / ORD have all experienced their fair share of growing pains related to legislative battles with Uber & Lyft and now we have a confusing web of policies that vary by city and airport.
So let’s delve into a few airport rules and regulations that’ll keep you on the right side of the law.
How Does It Work?
Drop-offs can be performed 99% of the time at any departures terminal. You’d pull up as you would similar to personal favors for friends or family, stop the car while it’s still running, pop the trunk to help with bags, and send your passengers on their way! This should be a quick transaction with little fuss.
If you’re just starting out, you may not know this, but as a rideshare driver for either Uber or Lyft, pickups are not always allowed (it depends on the airport). Get caught grabbing designated fares at the incorrect spot or worse, street hails, and it’ll result in a citation ranging between $100 to $1,000 plus your car could be impounded (yes, same draconian penalties applied as when it was blatantly illegal). And unlike in the past, Uber will not pay these fines. Get a ticket (and potentially a court date) and it’ll be out-of-pocket.
Fear not though as more airports are warming to the idea of allowing roll up passenger loading near arrival areas, such as CVG / MEM / CLE have already done. While still indirectly competing with taxis and cabs, they’ll stay in their lanes while you sneer from yours!
For UberX and UberXL (or those NOT required to carry commercial plates & insurance), pickup requests will come by way of entering a highly defined geofence around the airport itself.
Once within this outlined radius, a timer will populate the driver app as you’re placed in a digital first-in-first-out (FIFO) queue. You can also view this timer even if you’re not on airport grounds – this comes in handy if you want to see what the wait is like for a ride at the airport.
Editor’s Note: This timer is not available in many smaller cities but I do expect it to be rolled out eventually to all airports.
At busiest hours (early AM & late afternoon PM), wait times between 20-25 minutes aren’t unheard of because full time drivers are already planted for the rush, but expect an average wait time of 10-15 minutes.
During peak demand (between 7 AM to 10 AM and 4 PM to 7 PM), flights will be landing every few minutes and taking off just as quickly. But how can you anticipate shorter FIFO queue times? It literally pays to be in the right place at the best time. Schedule ahead by checking the shortest timetable landings at all terminals to hedge the clock.
It’s not the distance but number of people piling off planes that’ll shrink the queue quickly: more potential passengers, more potential fares. Flights between larger cities and warmer climates will be fuller so heed prior “FROM” destinations. As a secondary tactic if you find yourself “just passing through” the airport by happenstance, remember that while arrival fares can only be accepted inside the FIFO queue, regular fares are still based on who’s closest so stick to the fringes.
Related article: Essential gear for rideshare drivers
As for UberBLACK and UberSUV (required commercial plates & insurance), they’ll be sharing a fenced off regulated area with other livery drivers.
If you haven’t been pinged driving within the designated zone and plan on waiting it out to snag a request, don’t park anywhere you see a no parking sign, don’t try to sneak into the restricted livery (taxi/cab/limo) or cell-phone waiting lots, don’t recirculate back through either departures or arrivals terminals as it’s typically frowned upon by harbor / port authority police, and don’t park in airport employee only or rental car spots! All these “NO-NO’s” are likely airport property resulting in being automatically kicked from the FIFO queue.
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Where Do I Go Now?
You’ve finally accepted a passenger pickup request, now what? Some airports allow you to go right up to the curb to pick up your passenger. In this scenario, when the passenger makes the request, they’ll input the terminal number and the door # and that info should be relayed to the driver. Some airports like LAX require the driver and passenger meet on the upper arrivals area to reduce congestion. In this case, it may be useful to send a quick text to remind your passenger to meet on the upper level since it’s easy for a weary traveler to forget.
Other airports have a definitively marked (and heavily regulated) transportation network company (TNC) staging lot to perform passenger pickups. Short-term parking lots are favorites because they’re either across from the curbside pickups or available by airtram for arrivals convenience. They’ll be clearly marked but vary from airport to airport and may require a timed ticket be grabbed, usually within 5 minute FREE grace period.
Please check this rules & regs list I’ve composed outlining “Uber-sanctioned” reference data for 60 separate locations, each link should contain at least a map (and instructions) of the allowed pickup zones.
Airport Surcharge Fee
In addition to the regular booking fee charged, there’s also an airport usage fee tacked on. LAX (Los Angeles International) for example adds a $4.00 airport surcharge fee that is charged to the passenger and goes directly to the airport. Here’s a screenshot of an Uber passenger’s receipt. The $4 surcharge does not go to the driver though 🙁
If your passenger cancels at anytime before you reach the TNC staging lot, fear not as you’ll be placed at the front of the FIFO queue. But don’t cancel on a passenger after you’ve already accepted the fare as you’ll be moved to the bottom of the FIFO queue and could result in temporary deactivation by either Uber or Lyft, especially if they figure out you called ahead to determine destination (no cherry picking).
Related Article: 11 Things That Can Get You Deactivated As An Uber Driver (Including Cherry Picking)
Once you arrive for pickup, park in the designated spots or queue up line as directed by the attendant to safely embark fares and not jam up other drivers. Be sure to have your airport sticker/permit visible on the front windshield near trade dress if required, as is standard at airports like LAX & SFO.
Airport Tips & Tricks
Maybe you’ve already gotten beyond the initial stages of airport drop-offs & pickups and you’re looking for more to squeeze five stars out of every trip. If you’re driving an UberX, plan for single riders trying to get home ASAP. Pop the emergency brake on at pickup while the car idles, open the trunk and rear right passenger door for readiness when fare arrives, then offer to handle any/all luggage as a courtesy.
Anyone who’s ever been on a plane, even a short flight knows how time consuming and soul sucking the experience is overall. So to that effect, keep the convo light and focus on basic questions to ease traveler tension: a) where are you coming from, b) how was the flight, or c) looking forward to heading home? as any of these will politely help you gauge their level of interaction.
Readers, what do you think of this advice for drivers looking for airport rides? Do you have any advice for drivers who want to try the airport circuit?
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-Bill @ RSG