What Are The Real Risks of Doing Airport Runs With Lyft and Uber?

Update (1/2020): We just released a brand new report examining the recent ridehail changes at LAX – you can read more about it here.

It’s safe to say that the recent emergence of Lyft and Uber has caused a lot of disruption.  For as long as I’ve lived, taxis have ruled the transportation landscape despite providing a subpar experience and equally atrocious customer service.  But TNC’s changed all that in a relatively short matter of time and now you’d be hard pressed to find a single person on this planet who prefers a taxi over a TNC ride.

What Are The Real Risks of Doing Airport Runs With Lyft and Uber? We covered here Uber's Current Airport Policies. #Uber #Lyft #airportpolicy


But there seems to be a huge disconnect between lawmakers/regulators and the passengers/drivers that use these TNC services.  Everywhere you look, lawmakers are trying to stop the expansion of TNC’s instead of embracing social change.  Everyone knows that Uber and Lyft are what the people want yet for some reason those aforementioned regulators refuse to listen.

I think it all boils down to one simple thing: money.  When it comes to the government, everyone’s got to get a piece of the pie and that’s really what this whole airport issue is about.  It doesn’t matter that Lyft and Uber are reducing drunk driving incidents, making our roads less crowded and generally improving our society.  If the fat cats aren’t getting paid, then things have got to change.

Most airports like LAX charge a $4 fee to all TCP holders for every passenger pick-up they do.  Multiply that by the thousands of passengers coming in and out of LAX every day and now you see why these regulators are so pissed off about Uber and Lyft.  I’m sure there will be some sort of compromise in the end that gets them paid, there always is, but until then drivers are stuck bearing most of the risk.

Uber’s Current Airport Policies


I actually discovered Uber’s airport policy a couple months ago when I landed at LAX and tried to request an UberX as a passenger.  Pick up requests from the airport are actually blocked so you can’t even get a ride on airport property anymore.  At the time, I didn’t think much of it because I just called a Lyft and got a ride that way.  But it looks like there are still plenty of people doing Uber airport pick-ups.

UberX Pin Just Outside LAX Airport
UberX Pin Just Outside LAX Airport
UberX Pin Just Outside SNA Airport
UberX Pin Just Outside SNA – John Wayne Airport

I took the screen shots above last night (July 2, 2014) and you can see quite a few UberX cars hanging out around LAX and SNA.  I know some drivers wait for calls and then tell passengers to take a hotel shuttle to the nearest airport and they’ll pick them up there but that seems like a lot of effort.  It’s more likely that the passengers are moving the pin just outside the airport boundaries and then calling an UberX and letting the driver know where they are.  Now the question of whether you should be doing this or not is one that you’ll have to answer for yourself.

Personally, if Uber has gone to the trouble of blocking the entire airport area from pick-ups that’s a sign to me that I should probably stay away.  Realistically, the odds of me getting busted are very low but I just don’t think it’s worth the risk or the hassle.  If you do decide to go this route though, here are some simple steps you can take to avoid getting caught:

  • Remove any mounted phones or trade-dress, that’s going to be a dead giveaway
  • Let your passenger know that they should greet you with a hug or a handshake, basically pretend you’re old friends
  • Make sure your passenger sits in the front with you

That’s really all it takes if you want to be an Uber ninja and not get caught doing an airport pick-up.  There is literally no way the cops can bust you unless they have some type of undercover sting going on.  Although that scenario is extremely unlikely, at that point you’re probably on you’re own since Uber will not pay for your legal/impound fees if you got busted doing something you shouldn’t have been doing.


The good news for Uber drivers is that drop-offs are still allowed by Uber.  I actually got this e-mail from Uber the other day that stated:

To remain in compliance with the CPUC and LAX, trade dress (a visual sign) is required when dropping off riders at the airport.

We will be shipping you more formal trade dress, the ‘Uber U’, next week, in the mean time, download and print out this temporary ‘Uber U’ so that you can drop off riders at LAX.

Click HERE to download the printable Uber U.

You ARE allowed to drop off at LAX if you have this ‘Uber U’ visible.

That’s about as clear as it gets and I actually got my trade dress in the mail yesterday.  It’s just a plastic sleeve that has the Uber “U” on it in black and white.  I have no idea why the CPUC requires this but it just goes to show you the stupidity of the government and their antiquated regulations.  I guess they just like to know when a TNC driver comes onto their property, yeah right..

Now this e-mail was from Uber, but as we know Uber and the government don’t always see eye to eye.  I think if you’re going to do a drop-off with Uber you should still be as discreet as possible.  Make sure that your passenger sits up in the front with you and also ask them not to rate you or open their phone until they’re inside the terminal.

Lyft’s Current Airport Policies


Compared to Uber, Lyft is like the Wild Wild West when it comes to airport pick-ups and drop-offs.  It’s all good with them!  In fact, a few days ago I saw a lounge mentor respond to a question about airport pick-ups and Lyft’s official policy still appears to be that airport pick-ups and drop-offs are ok and you should wear your trade dress (pink mustache) in both cases.  Most drivers and even mentors I’ve talked to say that you should remove the ‘stache when doing airport rides but not according to HQ.

Related Article: How to Become a Lyft Mentor

Yesterday, Lyft also released more specific information to LA drivers only (not OC though for some reason) that says if you’re going to do a pick-up make sure you do it on the upper floor.  Here’s the message they sent out:

LAX Lyft Pickup Protocol

I’ve been kind of surprised at Lyft’s whole response to this airport situation.  Uber was very quick to block off most airport pick-ups months ago but Lyft refuses to do so even though airports, regulators and the CPUC have stated over and over that TNC pick-ups are not allowed.  I guess Lyft is working on things with the CPUC as we speak but they are still advising drivers that pick-ups are ok.

This latest e-mail is just plain strange, if airport pick-ups are ok, then why would drivers need to go to the upper level to do a pick-up?  If you’re not familiar with LAX, the upper levels is where departures (or drop-offs) take place.  Clearly, we’re not supposed to be doing drop-offs at the airport and this is Lyft’s temporary solution to avoid having to pay for more impounds.

I think this is bad advice because drivers are the ones taking on all the risk.  Sure Lyft will cover your legal and impound fees if you get busted for doing an airport drop-off but what about all of your lost wages?  How are you going to get to get around while your car is impounded?  And how are you going to get to work if you have another job like so many Lyft drivers do?  And what are the legal ramifications of an impound or misdemeanor offense?

That’s a lot of unanswered questions if you ask me and I have a feeling a lot of the answers are not good for drivers.  At the same time though, if you are going to do an airport pick-up there really is no way you should be getting busted.  Based off the screenshots I took last night, there are still a few drivers looking to do airport pick-ups.

Lyft LAX Airport Pickup
Lyft LAX Airport Pickup
Lyft SNA - John Wayne Airport Pickup
Lyft SNA – John Wayne Airport Pickup

So if you’re going to do a pick-up, make sure that you follow all of my tips including having the passenger sit up front and asking them not to rate you or check their phone until they’re in the terminal.

I see a lot of people bragging in the Facebook lounges about dropping off passengers with their ‘staches on right in front of the cops.  Why even do that?  I don’t care about the bragging (although that is annoying too) but when you know there is a tenuous situation why add fuel to the fire?  You’re just asking to get hassled by the cops or get your vehicle impounded and then you can see just how accommodating Lyft can be.


Like Uber, Lyft’s drop-off policy only requires that you wear your trade dress (the pink mustache).  According to Lyft, as long as you are wearing your ‘stache everything is kosher.  I’m still skeptical though and if I do an airport drop-off I’m probably going to put my cuddle ‘stache (mini pink ‘stache) on my dashboard right next to my Uber trade dress.

Again, I think drop-offs are pretty low risk but there’s no point in bringing unwanted attention to yourself.  I know Lyft and Uber’s official policies say that drop-offs are OK, but the real problem lies on the other end.  There are so many government agencies spinning their wheels, it’s hard to keep track of what the latest policies are and we know that the TNC’s are going to look out for their best interest first and foremost, not ours.

My Plan Going Forward

I’ve always been a risk-taker so going forward I’m probably going to play by all of Uber and Lyft’s rules but I could care less what the government or CPUC has to say.  Obviously it’s not the ideal situation, but while those guys figure everything out I’m going to do what’s best for myself.  There’s definitely some risk to doing airport rides but if you’re smart about it, you should be able to stay undetected.  It’s not like we’re terrorists or anything, we’re just trying to drop some freaking people off at the airport!

In the end, it all goes back to the relationship between risk and reward.  Like I talked about in my insurance podcast, there are certain risks to rideshare right now since it is such a new and innovative transportation platform.  There are going to be some growing pains and uncertainty for drivers while those issues are being worked out.  But at the same time, you’re rewarded for that risk.  Airport rides tend to be longer and you’ll make more money so you need to ask yourself if you understand the risk and are you willing to take the risk?

Readers, what do you think about the current state of airport rides and rideshare?  Is it worth all the hassle and the risk to do them or do you think it’s pretty easy to stay undetected if you follow my tips?

-The Rideshare Guy