When you land at an airport in the USA and need to get to your hotel or the city center, you can just pull out your phone and use Lyft or Uber, right?
Just two years ago, the answer was, “No, not necessarily.” Back then I wrote an article on how you could not get a pickup at the crazy busy Orlando International airport and I waited in a taxi line forever, in the wee hours. Here’s what it looked like:
In July of 2017 though, Orlando finally relented and welcomed the rideshare companies in, but with the highest fee in the nation: $5.80 per pickup. When I wrote the article, you also couldn’t get Lyft or Uber in New Orleans, Boston, Honolulu, or supposedly high-tech Austin.
All the Airports Have Uber and Lyft Now…for a Fee
Thankfully, all the dead spots in the USA have disappeared, though it hasn’t been without some big struggles. There was a two-month period in Providence Rhode Island when passengers were out of luck until the airport cut their fee in half. New Orleans dropped an onerous city council bill requiring extensive background checks for drivers and Lyft could finally start picking up passengers two years ago.
There’s not a great relationship between airports and ride sharing services in a lot of cities and in the ones where it’s the most acrimonious, you can get a ride, but they’re not going to make it cheap or easy.
Hey, be thankful we’ve gotten to this point though, which was inevitable but rocky. The alternative to new fees is definitely worse.
I just flew into a city in a foreign country where ride share services haven’t been welcomed for pickup and saw the usual outcome when they’re banned, either officially or in practice. Taxi lines were very long for rides that were way overpriced. (Basically double what you would pay to get to the airport.) A bus into the city cost me what it takes most local several hours to earn at work. The only people who like this situation are the taxi unions and the airport finance officers.
This is not just a foreign problem though. Uber and Lyft may be American companies, but that doesn’t mean they’re welcome in all parts of the USA. Besides the taxi drivers hating the competition, convenience for passengers means less revenue for the airport bosses. People can avoid paying jacked-up long-term packing charges and taxi rides that often gouge the non-voting tourists to add money to government and airport coffers.
Airports also make a lot of revenue from rental car companies—as you probably noticed if you ever looked at all the line items on your airport rental receipt from Hertz.
Where It’s Just Difficult to Use Lyft and Uber
Some airports have grudgingly listened to their customers and bowed to overwhelming demand, but that doesn’t mean they’ve made it easy. Many have tacked on extra fees so they can get their cut or they have make the pick-up point some inconvenient spot that will leave you wandering around lost with your baggage trying to find your driver. Here are a few to watch out for.
Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
You’ll only pay an extra buck to use Lyft and Uber here, but the pickup spot is far from obvious. You need to act like you’re renting a car and then go to the back of the ground floor of the Austin airport rental car area.
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
The taxi system in Vegas has long been inexplicably inefficient, chaotic, and overpriced, so they’re not about to allow the rideshare services introduce too much efficiency. When you arrive at the airport and want to use Uber or Lyft, you’ll need to go to the second floor of the parking garage from Terminal 1. From Terminal 3 it’s less of a walk, to the valet area of that parking garage. You’ll also pay around $3 for an airport surcharge.
New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
I seriously wondered for a second if there was some kind of grand scam going on when a man told us to get on a bus to go get our Lyft rides into the city. It wasn’t a short bus ride either. It took us from the terminal area to some remote parking area that seemed 1/10 full. On the plus side, the drivers show up fast once you’re there.
Boston Logan Airport (BOS)
Citing congestion at the terminals, the Boston airport authorities made a ruling this April that passengers arriving in a Lyft or Uber car could not be dropped off curbside except between 4:00 a.m. and 10 a.m. Instead you’ll get dropped off at a parking garage and you’ll pay a $3.25 fee for the pleasure.
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX)
I am updating this post in December of 2019 because Phoenix may become the first city to go backwards. Both Lyft and Uber have vowed to stop picking up or dropping off passengers at Sky Harbor Airport after the city drastically raised fees to add to their government piggy bank.
Phoenix is raising the fee of $2.66 per curbside pickup at Sky Harbor to $4 on Feb. 1. It also will create a drop-off fee of $4. The fees to the ride-hailing companies would gradually increase to $4.25 in 2021, $4.50 in 2022, $4.75 in 2023 and $5 in 2024.
Expect Rideshare Taxes Just Like Taxi Taxes
Assume that an airport fee is going to be folded into your ride price estimate on your app when leaving and airport (and sometimes when being dropped off at one). You’ll pay an extra $4-5 from LAX in Los Angeles, $4 in Atlanta (after you get a 20-minute workout walking from baggage claim), $5 from Chicago O’Hare, $3 from Orange County in California, and $3.25 from Boston Logan. We can only assume other airports are going to follow suit and somebody, somewhere, is going to try to push the envelope and really sock it to their visitors with far more. Then a court battle…
After a period of animosity and fighting, the good news is that most airport authorities have come to some kind of peace with Lyft and Uber, realizing they are here to stay and dealing with it. After all, Uber is the #1 company on expense reports by volume for companies in the USA, not even counting the leisure market. So in the “If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em” strategy, the airports are just tacking on an extra fee.
Although it sucks to pay a few extra dollars, consider it the price of keeping the peace. Compared to the much larger amounts you can spend on flight days in the airport, these charges are pretty small. A story in the LA Times noted that after imposing a $4 per passenger fee on Uber and Lyft rides, the airport more than made up for what it lost in rental car fees. So everybody wins, sort of.