More Airports Starting to Charge Drivers Who Are Dropping Off Passengers

Glasgow airport in Scotland will join Edinburgh and Aberdeen in charging drivers just to drop off passengers.

The 2 pound fee can be avoided by dropping off passengers at long-term parking and having them bus to the terminal.

Copyright: boscorelli / 123RF Stock Photo

This seems on face shocking, however businesses frequently pay an airport fee already — whether it’s taxis or Uber, or hotel or rental car shuttles. Usually passengers aren’t charged, but commercial vehicles on airport property frequently are.

It’s actually not unprecedented to charge passengers who are dropping off passengers, even in the U.S.: DFW airport’s access road has a toll and driving through in under 8 minutes costs $4. Several years ago they raised the price from $1 to $2, but gave a $1 discount for using an automated toll tag. They not only raised the price from $2 to $4, but eliminated that discount as well.

They’ve set it up with that 8 minute cutoff so that commuters using the access road pay more than passengers.

Airports usually justify the fee as:

  1. Limiting congestion. If people have to pay to drive onto the airport grounds, fewer of them will do it (pushing people to car pool, use public transit, or shuttle on in a group from off airport).

  2. Raise revenue for airport investment. All they’re saying there is that it’s a source of money and they need money.

In the case of this second argument, they’re in a position to extract rents and they choose a variety of ways to do that. It’s why higher minimum wages work at airports. The capital investment has been made and is unlikely to be duplicated, so airlines and passengers are ‘stuck’ along a certain margin. Although lower cost carriers may seek less-expensive airports that are relatively nearby such as Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami so airport costs do matter.

While dropoff fees are common in the U.K., Birmingham’s airport actually plans to eliminate the fee before summer.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. At almost every US airport I’ve seen, dropping off is not the problem. Sure, the departures level gets congested sometimes — but most dropoffs are quick ‘n’ easy.

    The arrivals level is where traffic gets hairy. Drivers cannot know precisely when their arriving passengers will appear curbside. Many drivers approach the terminal and stand at least a few minutes — which is prohibited, strictly speaking (“active loading only”), but can you blame them? Don’t mention the cell phone lot — at many airports it’s too remote.

    Given this situation at arrivals, you’re left with 2 outcomes.

    (1) Heavy enforcement of “active loading only” at the curb. I dislike this — I mean there’s nothing wrong in theory, but if there’s anything in this country I hate more than traffic, it’s rude dipshits who abuse their power. I’ve seen airports where the traffic cops yell and blow their whistle constantly, at literally everyone, whether they’re following the rules or not. I once saw a traffic cop berate someone in a wheelchair for loading too slowly. That situation incensed me so much I wrote into the local airport authority, even though the person in the wheelchair was a complete stranger. Fuck da police.

    (2) Lax or no enforcement at all. This will work at airports big enough to accommodate the drivers who linger at the arrivals curb. At other airports this causes major backups into the arrivals area. Again, I prefer backups over douchebag power trippers, but I understand it is a problem in itself.

    So what do I make of all this? I’m actually a huge fan of this European approach — I’ve never seen it in action, but it seems it would eliminate both traffic jams and power trippers.

  2. The trick at LAX when picking up ARRIVING passengers is to approach on the upper DEPARTURES level in the left hand lanes (not right hand lanes most dropoffs are trying to use) and swing into one of the appropriate parking garage entrances. Can usually find an easy parking spot on the departures level or the next one down. This assumes you don’t mind the parking fee and want to arrive early rather than late picking up your meat package. Typically I do this picking up passengers at TBIT and it has always worked a charm.

  3. @Jason, the trick is then obviously to goto the departures level and call the pax to have them go up there as well!

  4. If government enterprises do everything they can to maximize money they extract from customers, how does it make them any diffferent than corporations with their evil profits?

  5. Given how much of a premium airport rail normally costs over regular fares this seems very fair. People pay for the infrastructure they use either directly or indirectly through taxes so this seems reasonable.

  6. If airport authority are going to taking charges for dropping drivers, how they can say congestion gone to be stopped. Traffic are coming from inside not outside. And every one is already paying.
    There are 3 types of traffic outside airport.
    1. Those who have their own conveyance.
    2. The private company who are allotted their taixs to driver and generating their money.
    3. Localizer driver they owned their taxis.

  7. @Pat

    Most if not all airports in UK including the above mentioned ones are privately owned. You can thank the publicly owned airports in the US that you do not have to pay a pickup/dropoff fee.

  8. Except when there’s construction underway, there’s rarely traffic congestion at DFW terminals.

    The key that makes this work at DFW is that the fee for driving into the airport is the same as for the short term terminal parking, and they even set aside the closest parking spots as 1 or 2 hour limits. The result is that if you’re driving to the airport to pick someone up, and you’re a few minutes early, instead of sitting curbside or endlessly circling, it costs nothing extra to park the car right across the road from the terminal and walk inside to meet them.

    If you charge to enter the airport, but still charge extra to park, you’re not really doing anything to reduce congestion, unless there’s another way that’s both cheaper and convenient. And I’m not sure that waiting for and then schlepping on a shuttle bus is convenient enough to be worth saving a couple of pounds.

  9. Jeez, looks like they’re getting some serious weather there in Glasgow. That alone would be enough to discourage me from stopping to drop someone off there. No tolls needed.

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