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?
Last decade, the answer was, “No, not necessarily.” Now it’s just “Yes, but with airport rideshare fees.” Hey, I’ll consider that an improvement. There once was a time when 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 after midnight. 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. On August 1 of 2023, Orlando regained its title as the most expensive place for an airport rideshare pickup, raising their add-on fee to $7. So if your charge to get all the way to your Disney hotel was going to be $35 normally for that distance, it’s going to be $42 because of the tacked-on fee.
This is how the airports are dealing with the pressure from two fronts. Most people prefer the airport rideshare services over a taxi because of the superior experience and convenience, but the taxi cartels hate the competition and the airports hate the fact that they need to set up more than one place for arriving fliers to wait for a ride. One way to address both these issues is to soak the customers since there’s nothing they can do about it, especially in airports where there’s no train to the city center.
So in almost any large U.S. airport, you’re going to pay an extra fee just to get out of the place.
All the Airports Have Uber and Lyft Now…for a Fee
Although it took some fighting along the way, all the dead spots in the USA have disappeared for airport rideshare availability. Uber and Lyft lost some battles, but they won the war. Spurred on by the taxi cartels, cities put up a lot of obstacles and delays, but most got struck down in court or some kind of agreement was struck so that passengers could get the choice they vocally made clear they wanted.
There’s still 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 the add-on fees is definitely worse. You know this if you’ve ever waited in a taxi line for 40 minutes and paid an inflated rate to get to your destination on top of it, with a credit card machine that may or may not work.
I just spent several months in Europe where I flew into several cities where rideshare service have been banned, like in Greece and Bulgaria. Taxi lines were very long for rides that were way overpriced. (Basically double what you would pay to get to the airport.) The only people who like this situation are the taxi unions and the airport finance officers getting a piece of the taxi action.
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 too—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 made 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 very back of the ground floor of the Austin airport rental car area. It’s a walk of the equivalent of two football fields, on several levels, before you can get into a rideshare car.
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. Besides, the airport makes close to $20 million in fees each year from add-on fees and taxes for people just trying to get out of the airport one way or another and they like getting that pile of guaranteed cash.
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 $2.50 for an airport surcharge, about a buck more than what the taxi companies pay as a fee.
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 showed up fast once we were there.
I believe this chaos was due to some construction going on, however, because when I look at the official airport page now, it looks like you can walk to the airport rideshare pickup point. It’s different for every terminal though, so check the instructions and follow the signs.
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.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
As the gateway to Silicon Valley and the home of many tech companies, San Francisco supposedly has the highest percentage of rideshare app users of any U.S. airport. That is certainly helping the coffers of the airport management company since every passenger is paying a fee of $3.80 when they take a ride.
Because of all the volume, the pickup area can get chaotic here, so it can pay to call your driver and keep in touch as they’re arriving. For international arrivals, the pickup area is on the departures level near the terminal. For other terminals, it’s on the 5th level of the parking garage.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Flying through LAX is never fun and you’ll inevitably encounter at least one major bottleneck in the arrival or departure. Unfortunately, this is also a tough airport for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft because you’re going to hand over an extra $4 to $5 to the airport authority just to get into the car. (The fee varies by the level of service you choose.)
As for pickup, you’ll need to get to the “LAX-it” lot and follow the signs. For some terminals this can mean a walk across the street, but for some locations you may need to get on a shuttle bus.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
You’ll pay a $3.85 rideshare pickup fee when leaving the Atlanta airport by Uber or Lyft. The pickup convenience can vary greatly depending on which terminal you are in. If you’re not picking up luggage, it can pay to take the train to Terminal F, where the rideshare pickup is close and convenient.
For other terminals, you could be facing a 20-minute walk with your rolling luggage. In general though, the signage is good for getting to where you need to go.
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 an airport (and sometimes when being dropped off at one). You’ll pay an extra $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 than the $7 Orlando is charging. Then howls of protest and maybe 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.
Oh and this shouldn’t be true but it is: in Q2 of 2023, Uber finally reported a profit for the first time in its history. (After burning through $31 billion so far.) Now they’re really here to stay.
Although it sucks to pay a few extra dollars to the authorities in airport rideshare fees, 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.
If you want to get an idea ahead of time what your ride is going to cost, you can just open the app when you’re online and put in the airport and the final destination. Or you can use a site called Uberestimate to do the same thing without going through the trouble of opening Uber or Lyft. Then if you’re landing at an airport with fixed-price taxis, you can determine which method is going to get you to where you’re headed for less: taxi or rideshare app.
Can I avoid the airport rideshare fee?
As most people have discovered, riding Uber or Lyft to the airport is usually a lot cheaper than riding it from the airport. That’s because the airports don’t have an easy way to treat incoming rideshare dropoffs differently than your spouse dropping you off. (In some countries where they’ve made it illegal for rideshare companies to do drop-offs at the airport, the driver will ask you to sit up front so it’s not obvious it’s a paid ride!)
The only way to avoid the airport fee when leaving the airport is to get off the airport grounds. In some cities, this is not all that hard: you can walk a kilometer or so to a commercial street or an airport hotel parking lot and you’re now not subject to the fee. If you’re loaded down with luggage or it’s a sprawling airport, however, you’re out of luck on that option.
Another option is to take the metro or bus to leave the airport, when there is such a thing, then get an Uber or Lyft at some point where you exit.
The third way to get around these fees is to rent a car. I’ve done this several times when the cost to get from and to the airport was going to cost more than renting the car for a couple of days. I wouldn’t do this in a congested place with lots of tolls such as NYC, but in a mid-sized city that’s easy to navigate it can sometimes cost you less and then you’ve got your own wheels for the car-centric USA.
This article on airport rideshare fees was updated in August of 2023.