Rideshare Strategy: How to use airport pickups to maximize your earnings amid COVID-19

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It’s a tradition. 

In the past, rideshare drivers could always look to airports as a sure-fire source of high-tipping passengers and long, lucrative rides. Then … you guessed it, the coronavirus slammed into us head-on. Now, airports are no longer teeming with those sweaty, suitcase-schlepping families, or even first-class business travelers with nothing but a backpack or briefcase.

The reality is, COVID-19 ravaged the air travel landscape. 

International travel bans, state quarantine requirements, business trends toward working from home, and a general queasiness on the part of people who’d rather not be locked in an airplane with hundreds of potentially contagious passengers, all played a part in decimating the population of airport riders.

Still, aren’t there some riders at the airport? Is it worth waiting in the rideshare area? As drivers, should we ignore airports all together, or keep trying to find some riders there? 

We gave a lot of thought to these questions, and developed a strategy you can use to be smart about (and profit from) airport driving, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:

  • What the real passenger traffic numbers look like
  • What the future might bring as more states open for business
  • Something to watch for: current airport rules and regulations for rideshare drivers
  • Where to find out about peak times at your local airport(s)
  • How to integrate the new normal into your (highly successful) rideshare routine

What the real passenger traffic numbers look like

You can tune into the rumor mill or drivers’ social posts all you want, but you still might not find out the truth. Nothing tells the real story of the levels of passenger traffic than raw, official numbers. 

In the graph below, which is an excerpt from the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) count of travelers making their way through security checkpoints, you’ll see what’s actually going on. The numbers compare traffic in 2020 to the same days of the week, on comparable dates, in 2019.

First of all, it’s obvious that air travel is not booming at the moment. That’s the not-so-good news. On June 22, 2020 (a high-traffic day, Sunday) air traffic was 22.4% of the traffic in the same week (and on the same day of the week) one year before. 

Yet even in the face of that bleakness, some things give us hope. If you look at the lowest number for a Sunday during the height of the pandemic, April 12, there were 90,510 passengers going through TSA checkpoints compared with 2,446,801 in 2019. Only 3.7% of the passengers counted in 2019 were traveling on that April Sunday in 2020.

The reason for feeling better about the air travel situation is how many more travelers TSA has recorded moving through airports since April 2020. Obviously, there’s a long way to go before air traffic returns to normal, but for now, we can at least find some solace in observing that it appears to be coming back.

What the future might bring as more states open for business

The next thing we have to wonder is whether air travel will ever be the same. There is no way to know for sure, but one thing is for sure: it will improve eventually. Although international travel is still in a slump, demand for domestic travel is showing signs of new life. 

Why? For one thing it’s summer, and many people are expecting to go away, somewhere, anywhere at this time of year. 

Add to that the tension of individuals being locked up in their homes for weeks and months on end, and you have a surge of “get me outta here!” energy brewing. This is almost certain to accelerate the growth of air travel in the coming months. 

The domestic travel industry needs help to remain solvent in the post-COVID world, and there’s some possibility of help from the government. File this one under, “We can dream, can’t we?” but there is a proposal in Congress to issue tax credits of as much as $4,000 for individuals traveling within the U.S. That could be a nice shot in the arm to travel-based companies, and bring us more airport riders, too.

Business travel is still a question mark. 

The surge in online meetings, and the surprising ease with which businesses have been able to conduct operations outside of their offices (without business travel) could have permanent effects on the number of frequent-flyer riders in the future. 

There must be some urgent business that requires that visit from out-of-state, though, and it’s possible there will be an uptick in business travel this summer. With luck, they too will be coming back to the airports and depending on the comfort and convenience of our rideshare vehicles to take them where they need to go.

What to watch for: Current airport rules and regulations for rideshare drivers

With all the downtime over the last few months, airport authorities throughout the country have had enough time to consider ways of improving safety at airports, taking COVID-19 into consideration. 

Airport officials may also have taken time to re-think the way rideshare operates at their facilities. Maybe they’ll even re-think that policy of making rideshare drivers operate from sites outside the terminals. Let’s hope!

As a driver, it’s your responsibility to know the regulations at the airport(s) you use, and to abide by them. At this time, when airports are just beginning to gear up again, there’s an excellent chance for you to become more familiar with any changes you might need to consider as a driver. 

It’s generally agreed that in the COVID-19 situation,  regulations at airports are in a constant state of flux. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Keep watch of your rideshare app (Uber, Lyft, etc.) for any general changes in airport driving policy for your area;
  • Check Gridwise for up-to-date, specific regulations and procedures for rideshare drivers at airports around the country;
  • Follow the guidelines of your rideshare app and the CDC for COVID-19 safety;
  • Check CDC-recommended airport and airline precautions for ideas that offer further protection;
  • Look for, read, and follow instructions on signs that appear at the airport, even if they’re posted on an ad-hoc basis.

Where to find out about peak times at your local airport(s)

It isn’t possible to make recommendations about peak passenger times that cover all the airports and areas rideshare drivers serve. As you’re probably aware, the kinds of businesses in your city, as well as the airline schedules in general, will dictate peaks and valleys in passenger volume.

There are air traffic websites you can consult, but that can be cumbersome, especially when you’re rolling down the road. If you want to know how many travelers will be at the airport, you’ll need a resource you can trust and get to quickly. Guess what? There’s one that has accurate, absolutely current, easy-to-access information, right at your fingertips: Gridwise.

Gridwise has a tab dedicated to airport traffic. On the menu tap Airports, and instantly you’ll get a full picture of the numbers of arriving and departing passengers, and what time they’ll be there. 

A tip to remember: There’s usually lots of lodging around airports. When the airport is either quiet or overpopulated with drivers, these hotels and motels are a great source of riders. Many might be on their way back to the airport or into the city for a quick meeting or a little fun. There’s money … right there waiting for you.

How to integrate the new normal into your (highly successful) rideshare routine

At least for now, airports aren’t what they used to be: hotbeds for finding high-paying passengers. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on airport driving—just start looking at it in a new way. For instance, once you check on passenger patterns for the day on your Gridwise app, you can plan your airport rides the same way you would look at a game, concert, or other event.

It might not make sense to head straight there and sit in the queue waiting for passengers that may never send you a ping, but you definitely could have lots of good rides when you cruise by at  peak traffic times. COVID-19 and its aftermath have changed the way we do rideshare, but one thing is for sure. Passengers still need rides, and they need you. You just need to know when they need you most.

Another tip: If you’re rockin’ a hybrid driving gig, you can check airport traffic volumes, and during the lulls, deliver! Airports normally have nearby clusters of fast food joints, office parks, and restaurants, ready to be served by YOU.

Wherever you drive, take Gridwise with you!

Being smart about your driving strategy means you need to drive with the ultimate assistant for rideshare and delivery drivers … Gridwise. Not only does this powerful app provide stats on airport traffic, weather, and events in your city, it helps you track your mileage and earnings, on as many apps as you use for driving rideshare and delivery.

There’s also easy access to our ever-growing and extraordinarily relevant blog, deals for drivers, and facts and fun from J and Brandon’s podcast!

Also, do you have an airport strategy you care to share? Comment below and fill in the rest of the Gridwise community. Stay safe, stay smart, and make lots of money.

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