Do you like picking people up at the airport? I’ve always hated it. It’s usually a hassle between traffic and figuring out where to go and where to meet your arriving family member or friend, particularly if it’s super busy. Around a holiday when the place is heaving with people? No, thanks. Plus, my timing is always off, so I have to circle around and around or find a cell phone lot to park in.
So it’s somewhat ironic that it’s one of my preferred spots when I’m driving for Uber, and I voluntarily go there to pick up strangers. (Well, the holidays still suck, though a price surge can help deal with the rise in blood pressure).
Of course some days, things just don’t go smoothly at all. But we’ll get to that.
Giving airport pickups a go
I have to admit, it was a little stressful at first, especially since you have to follow certain procedures at Sky Harbor. Drops offs are easy and there are no restrictions. But pickups are a whole other animal. For example, the city doesn’t want Uber and Lyft drivers circling the terminals like vultures trying to get passengers. Drivers have to go to a designated waiting lot and enter a virtual queue (first in, first out). When you get a ride request, you have to go to a designated spot on a particular curb at the terminal. For Terminals 3 and 4, it’s on the outer curb while at Terminal 2 it’s the inner curb.
If you pick up a passenger outside a designated spot, you can be flagged for a violation, ticketed, and banned from the airport. Airport workers in neon yellow vests, known colloquially as Curb Nazis, are responsible for maintaining order. They ride herd over the fleet of taxis, limos, vans, shuttles, buses, and rideshare drivers zipping in and out fighting for curb space. They patrol the curbs looking for rule violators — they’ll even ticket you if you’re not working and picking up a friend but have your stickers (trade dress) displayed. It’s a thankless job, and most of them do it well, but a handful of them are more than a little officious.
Learning the tricks of the trade
When I began doing airport runs, my first several pickups were on the south side of Terminal 4 and were fairly straightforward. The north side was problematic because I had to circle around to get to it. Because of construction, I had to go a couple of miles out of my way down past Terminal 2 and loop back. That is until I figured out there were two shortcuts on the south side of Terminal 4.
These shortcuts are easy for novice drivers to miss. One takes you up a ramp to the departure level and has less traffic. However, it can be a bit of a nailbiter when you come down another ramp that puts you right across from the northside rideshare pickup. As you come down the ramp, you have to do a hard right across four lanes of traffic. There is no yield sign, so you’re not supposed to stop even if traffic is busy and you probably have cars behind you. So, you just close your eyes and hope for the best. I’m kidding about closing your eyes, but there’s a huge pucker factor as you’re looking over your shoulder while zooming across four lanes when traffic is heavy. You just hope that you don’t sideswipe someone or crash into the car pulling into the rideshare area ahead of you.
Okay, so I kind of broke the law…
The shortcut on the lower level requires less stressful maneuvering, but it can take a lot longer because of potential high traffic volume. To make matters worse, if you miss the one tiny exit to the outer curb, you’re stuck in the inner lanes where you can’t legally pick up a passenger. Basically, you’re fucked and have to drive out and start the whole process again.
This actually happened to me the first time I used this shortcut and traffic was stop and go. I was horrified when I realized I’d missed the exit. I’d been in traffic forever and circling around would cost me at least an extra 10 minutes, probably way longer. I could see my passenger on the outer curb and he could see me. Luckily, we were on the phone. I explained how I’d screwed up. Then I made a decision when the car behind me dropped back. I told him I was stopping at the crosswalk and to jump in my car quickly (I didn’t know this was illegal at the time — I thought it was simply frowned upon — oops). He ran over and I hopped out, grabbed his case, and slung it into my trunk. Then we both ran and jumped in the car like we were running a two-man Chinese fire drill. A Curb Nazi spotted us and shouted angrily as we scrambled into the car, but we made our escape and I never got a ticket (phew).
How airport pickups work (unless you’re dealing with dumb people)
Pickups generally aren’t bad. The app tells riders where to go to wait for their pick up. For example, at Terminal 4, if you choose the Southside, it tells you to go to the outer curb across from Door 8. Pretty simple. But some people still fuck this up and go to the wrong spot or the wrong side of the terminal. Kind of a hassle, but usually solvable with a quick phone call and some power walking on their part. Not that big of a deal unless you’ve got a bossy Curb Nazi who doesn’t tolerate loiterers. However, I had one lady who just couldn’t find me even though I was the only car at the curb at Terminal 2. A Curb Nazi was looking at her watch, but luckily, it wasn’t busy so she cut me some slack on the time limit. I was talking to my passenger trying to help her navigate to the right spot. It took several minutes before I realized she was actually at Terminal 3. She had selected the wrong goddamn terminal for pick up. On the plus side, she actually tipped me well for my trouble.
How airport pickups work when dealing with an asshole
Unfortunately, there is a special breed of annoying people who simply ignore the app’s instructions. Instead, they call and tell me to pick them up in a prohibited area. And I have to explain I can only pick them up in a designated zone. They typically get huffy and want to know why I’m being difficult. I tell them it’s because I don’t want to pay a hefty fine and get banned (to date, none of them have offered to pay the fine either). They usually relent and walk over and leave it at that. But not always. One guy named fucking Carl continued arguing because he was at the far end of the terminal and was lugging a large bag and golf clubs. He stayed on the phone and I could hear his dumb ass huffing and puffing. You would have thought he was on the Bataan Death March the way he bitched the entire walk over. And he continued griping once he got there. And through the first several minutes of our wonderful twenty plus mile journey together to south Chandler.
The thing that sucks is that these are the people who rate you poorly as a driver for following the rules.
And then there was Naseer
Naseer was a whole other level of asshole. When I got the pickup request for him, I was heading into Terminal 4 Southside when he called. It was his account but he informed me I was picking his sister up. I told him no problem, just have her go to the outer curb and look for the Rideshare sign across from Door 8. He explained that would not be happening because she was sitting in his car with him. They were parked in front of Door 4 on the inner curb. It would be too difficult to circle around the airport, so I was to meet them there.
Huh. Okay, first off, why the hell was she in his car? Hadn’t she just got off an airplane? If she was already in his car, why didn’t he just drive her to where she needed to go? I assumed there was some complicated reason we didn’t have time to discuss. Maybe she didn’t speak English, was an extreme introvert, or there was a cultural issue? Who knows? Second, why couldn’t she walk fifty feet across the street? He shed no light on the situation.
Anyway, he interrupted me as I was explaining why I couldn’t meet him at Door 4. Apparently, the police had ordered him to move his car. He insisted I meet him at another door that was further down. I told him again that it was illegal and reiterated that his sister needed to cross over to the outer curb.
Obviously, he listened to me, right? Nope. He became extremely annoyed when it became clear I wasn’t going to cooperate. His next plan was to have me meet them at the entrance to the 143 South for the handoff. I told him there was no way I was risking our lives parking on the side of a busy interchange.
Nasser had had enough of my ineptitude and let me know. Finally, he said:
“You know what, Sean. I think I’m going to have to cancel and request a more professional Uber driver!”
Yes! Thank God!
I know he meant that as a dig, but I was totally relieved I no longer had to deal with him.
Typically, I help passengers solve problems but this guy was unreasonable and a certified A1 jerk. I admit, I was a little annoyed, but I still got a cancellation fee of a few dollars for my wasted time. He was now some other poor bastard’s problem. I kind of felt bad for that other unsuspecting driver, but hey, I had given it the old college try. The odds that Nasser got someone willing to go along with his scheme were probably very slim. Getting banned from the airport as a driver, even temporarily, sucks.
Of all the passengers I’ve picked up from the airport, Naseer was the most difficult though there have been one or two others that came close. Luckily, the assholes are few and far between. Most airport pickups are easy and fairly profitable, so I keep doing them.