airports chi

The Ultimate Airport Guide for Rideshare Drivers: Chicago


We’ve been talking to a lot of Chicago area rideshare drivers lately about their experiences and we’re constantly hearing about the airports.

Some drivers can’t wait to tell us how much of a waste of time the airports are, however, for some drivers O’Hare is their bread and butter.

Why the disconnect?

It comes down to strategy.

The drivers that are having success are the ones that don’t just show up and hope for the best, they have a rock-solid strategy. Those drivers were gracious enough to talk to us about what has been working for them and in today’s blog post we’re going to share with you what we learned.

This post will include:

  1. How to navigate each of Chicago’s airports
  2. When to go to each airport
  3. How to mitigate your non-airport airport ping risk

How it works

Uber, Lyft, and other TNC’s specially designate airports with a “geofence” that tightly defines the airport area. As a driver, if you have an app on in those areas, you’ll be placed in a queue that acts as a virtual driver line.

As you wait in the queue, you’ll cycle through the line (hopefully quickly) and finally be pinged by a rider.

Navigating O’Hare and Midway

Your first few times as a rideshare driver can be a bit disorienting because of all of the rules and regulations that differ from city to city and airport to airport.

Let’s first talk about what those rules are at each airport and you can comply.

O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

The flagship airport of Chicago/The Midwest is not for the faint of heart because of the high volume of people and cars, not to mention some confusing roads. However, when you figure it out, it is worth it.

Where to wait

The TNC lot at O’Hare is on the Jawa Entry Roadway which is just off Balmoral Ave.

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Where to pick up

O’Hare is a large airport so has multiple pickup spots. Passengers arriving domestically will have two places they can be picked up from depending on their location.

Domestic passengers will be directed to one of the following rideshare pickup areas:

  • On the upper level between Terminals 1 and 2, directly to the right of Door 2A, between the signs.
  • On the upper level between Terminals 2 and 3, directly to the right of Door 3A, between the signs.

International passengers will be directed to the rideshare area on the lower level of Terminal 5 at Door 3.

Midway Airport (MDW)

O’hare’s little brother is certainly a easier airport to navigate because of its smaller size. There are still a few things you’ll want to keep in mind however.

Where to wait

The TNC lot at Midway is at the corner of South Cicero Ave and 72nd Street.

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Where to pick up

Midway has a pretty straightforward pickup system. You simply meet your rider on the Arrivals level outside Door 4.

You’ll likely encounter some traffic when going to pickup your passenger, so call them and let them know you are on your way. They should be looking out for you and if possible trying to move closer to where you will be.

When to go to the airports

Now let’s talk airport strategy.

A successful airport driver is a master of his or her time. You don’t want to be caught waiting around for hours in the airport queue while you could be making money elsewhere. You can avoid this by understanding when the most passengers are both arriving and departing.

There are a few go to times when there are many coming into O’Hare and Midway. Monday and Tuesday mornings for instance are a boon for business travelers arriving for a week of work in the city. They tend to leave again Thursday and Friday afternoons which causes another surge of those travelers leaving from Downtown.

  • Other busy times for travel include:
  • Christmas and Thanksgiving Holidays
  • 4th of July
  • Saturday’s before Ravens or Redskins games
  • The week of large parades

Take advantage of these travel heavy times by positioning yourself in the queue 10 – 15 minutes before there is a peak in arriving airports. You can easily predict when these times will be using the free Gridwise App.

Peak Departures Pitt

Another great trick is to understand how many drivers are in the TNC lot before you even go. This will help you avoid waiting in unnecessarily long lines. There are a few great Facebook groups that share this information, however, you can get a more real time view of the airport queue using Gridwise.

Many drivers forget about passengers that are heading to the airport, however they can be profitable as well. Position yourself near hotels downtown in the loop to maximize your chances of getting a long airport fare.

Use your cancels wisely

Remember that heartbreaking tale that I told you to start this blog post? Well, the truth is there is no way to guarantee this won’t happen to you.

You can, however, decrease your chances of getting pulled out of the queue for another ride by using your cancels wisely and positioning yourself well within the airport zone.

Uber and Lyft’s ping algorithms are still under lock and key so it’s difficult to completely understand how drivers are selected, however, we do know that riders are supposed to be selected based on proximity to the rider.

So that stands to reason that if you move closer to the airport and away from the surrounding city that you’ll decrease your chances of being pinged outside the airport. The TNC lots are great for this, the cell lots would be better, however rideshare drivers are not officially allowed in those lots. So approach at your own risk.

Your next strategy is to be fully loaded with “timeouts” so you can ignore a call at least once without being sent to the back of the line.

Remember, you only need about a 90% acceptance rate to stay in good standing with the TNC and get your weekly driver rewards, so use the few timeouts you have at the airport if you know you’re going to incorporate them into your strategy for the day.

Things to remember

A great airport strategy can lead to a consistent and predictably high income for the smart rideshare driver. We recently wrote a story about Jeff who has been conquering rideshare up in Pittsburgh for the last year, so you can take his strategy and make it your own. Just remember a few extra things:

  • Always reach out to your passenger and confirm their location right before you depart
  • DO NOT cancel on a passenger after you’ve accepted a fare. You’ll be moved to the bottom of the queue and could face deactivation by your TNC
  • Be mindful of law enforcement and don’t risk getting a ticket by handing out in the cell lots
  • Be prepared when you come to the airport. This means trade dress displayed along with your airport placard and citytax emblem, insurance card and registration available and don’t forget your driver’s license

Alright, that’s it! Everything you need to know to get started at the airports in Chicago.

Are you an experienced TNC airport warrior? Did we miss any great airport tips? Let us know and we’ll add them to the list!


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