A few weeks back I was sitting in the Uber airport queue right when a big wave of travelers was coming in. I arrived a bit early so I was chatting with a few drivers that I had come to know while waiting in the TNC lot. After 10-15 minutes there a few planes with big passenger counts come in and BOOM! Surge. A surge at the airport is like the holy grail. After just 15 minutes of waiting I was going to get a long ride with a surge, I’m expecting a $75+ ride right now. Pretty considerable jump from the ~$17/hour median rate for DC drivers. So I jump back in my car, excited about the cash I was about to stack, when I finally got pinged.From outside the airport surge zone… 15 minutes outside the airport surge zone.
What…After a few seconds of fury, panic, crying, and acceptance, I accepted the ride. I just couldn’t let go of my 100% acceptance rate. After licking my wounds I got back to the airport and started talking to my fellow drivers about how to tackle D.C. and Baltimore’s three airports and how to avoid the dreaded non-airport airport ping of death. I’m going to share what I learned in today’s blog post including:
- How to navigate each of D.C./Baltimore’s airports
- When to go to each airport
- How to mitigate your non-airport airport ping risk
Let’s get to it!
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.Most airports will have a designated pickup area which, will be the only place TNC drivers are allowed to wait. You’ll also want to always clearly display your TNC’s sign in your passenger window.
Navigating BWI, DCA, & IAD
Your first few times at an airport 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 how you can comply.
Dulles International Airport (IAD)
First off, can someone please explain to me why Dulles International Airport’s acronym is IAD? I thought there were three DC based airports for the first 3-weeks I lived here!Anyways… Let’s first talk about IAD specific rules
Where to wait
The Dulles airport TNC lot is at the intersection of Autopilot Dr and Rudder Rd.
Where to pick up
Many airports add a significant layer of confusion for picking up passengers. Dulles is thankfully very straight forward. You can just pick passengers up along the lower level outer curb of the arrivals area.
Ronald Reagan International Airport (DCA)
Much like IAD, Ronald Reagan has fairly straightforward rideshare rules.
Where to wait
Ronald Reagan airport has two designated TNC lots. The main staging lot is pictured below just off of Airport access road. There is another area meant for overflow that is off of 26th street, below Airport Access road.
There is even a bathroom across from the lot in the parking garage which can be useful. You are only allowed to leave your car for 15 minutes to use the facilities, however, and if you are gone 16 minutes don’t be surprised if you come back to an MWAA officer writing you a ticket.
Where to pick up
Again like IAD, DCA has a relatively simple pick up procedure. You can simply find and pick up passengers on the lower level, outside curb of the arrivals area. If you are pooling you may have to do a lap or two.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)
Finally an airport with an acronym I can get behind! In the past, waiting at BWI was tricky because of Maryland’s rules and regulations which didn’t specifically let drivers wait on airport property. This means that Uber/Lyft drivers technically were not allowed to wait on airport property to pick up riders.Recently BWI and the TNC companies have come together to strike a deal that will officially allow rideshare drivers at the airport. So expect changes to come quickly!
Where to wait
Currently, there is still no official wait area at BWI airport property, so the geofence’s that Uber and Lyft have created are large enough to accommodate drivers waiting outside the property. You can wait at a few places along Elkridge Landing Rd along with a small lot off Elkridge road that Lyft has started to designate for drivers.
It’s also a good idea to move to the shell to wait for a ride request as you get closer to having your number called.
Where to pick up
Arrivals are a bit more restricted at BWI as you can only pick up passengers from arrivals (lower level) from Door 5 or Door 12. You may have to do a lap around if you are pooling.
When to go
Being at the airport at the right time is crucial for success. Otherwise, you risk waiting around for hours for a rush of travelers to land. You can avoid this by understanding when the most passengers are both arriving and departing.There are a lot of common times when you can count on passengers coming into the airport. It’s very common on Monday and Tuesday mornings for business travelers to be arriving for a work week in Baltimore, D.C., or Virginia. At the end of the week, on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings, there is a surge of those same business travelers leaving to go home or coming back.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.
Don’t forget to pay attention to departures as well. You can take advantage of peak departure hours by positioning yourself near hotels to maximize your chances of getting a long airport fare.
Use your timeouts 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 algorithms are still under lock and key so it’s difficult to completely understand how drivers are selected, however, we do know that drivers 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 from 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 hourly 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 by leveraging his local airport, 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 hanging out in the cell lots
- Because of the heavy MWAA presence, be prepared when you come to the airport. This means trade dress displayed, 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 the DMV. 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!