How To Win At The Airport Pick-Up Game

Picking someone up at the airport is a true show of care and dedication, because it’s such a hassle with so much potential to cause frustration. Here are some tips to make the selfless act a bit easier:

* Don’t leave too early. Timing your arrival to the exact moment the plane lands is poor form. Remember that it takes a while to get off the plane, pick up baggage and maneuver through crowds to exit the building. If you live about half an hour from the airport, you may as well have the person you’re picking up text you when they land.

* Check for delays ahead of time. If there’s a problem with the flight schedule that you’re not aware of, you can get stuck in limbo waiting around at home or the airport. Sites such as FlightView let you know quickly whether or not a flight has been delayed.

* Don’t park. There’s no need to pay for parking when you know when your friend will be there. Arrange to meet at a curbside. If you get there too early and security won’t let you wait, drive off-site, wait a few minutes and then come back.


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  1. CharlesFarley says:

    Midway Airport has an easy to use “Cell Phone” lot that is a couple of blocks south of the airport. It is free and convenient – both of which are very un-City of Chicago like things to do.

    • NotEd says:


      Used the lot that past summer to pick up my parents at Midway. It is convenient and close. Several other airports are adding Cell Phone lots like this as well and it makes for easier pickup of out of town visitors.

      • bluline says:

        The cell phone lot at our new terminal has been so successful that the airport authority had to shut down part of the short-term parking garage because no one uses it. If they wanted to generate more parking revenue, they’d close the cell phone lot and make people pay to park in the short term garage. Or make them pay to use the cell phone lot.

        • Electric McButt says:

          SHHhhhhhhh!!!!! They’ll get ideas!

          • Murph1908 says:

            Nah. The reason they opened the lots is the same reason they won’t close them. People won’t pay start paying to park, they’ll do what they did before…continue to circle the terminals and increase congestion, or park on the side of some nearby side street.

    • spottymax says:

      Came here to say this… our airport has one of these lots. It’s a little closer so my family has a system, one call when the plane lands, second call when your ‘hand is on your bag’. You walk out of the airport about the same time your ride pulls up.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      SLC has a great cell phone lot – big screens in the parking lot give you info on flight status of arriving flights. Great idea!

    • Carlee says:

      LAX has a cell-phone lot too, but I’ve never used it. There’s a Carl’s Jr about half a mile from the airport (on the same street) that we used to use to wait for people. Nowadays, I live about 20 mins from LAX so I just wait until the person has landed.

    • thrillcook says:

      Yes, Logan(Boston, MA) has this. I still get their a little early to do one loop around all the terminals so when my friend tells me which they are exiting I will know exactly where I need to go, from the “cell phone lot”.

    • nodaybuttoday says:

      Same thing at Philadelphia. I just make sure to bring my DS or something and wait for a call.

  2. Labratt21 says:

    Austin-Bergstrom has a new “Cell-Phone” waiting lot where you can park for an hour for free and then you can pickup someone curbside. It’s fantastic.

    • Grungo says:

      Yeah but I think they’re also doing away with the current “first 1/2 hour free” policy at their main, close-in parking garage–which sucks ass.

  3. RayanneGraff says:

    One of my fondest family memories was of me & my mom getting picked up at O’Hare when I was 17. We waited around for an hour & were starting to think we’d been forgotten, when all of a sudden my crazy Croatian uncle pulls us, screaming obscenities & scaring the hell out of everyone else. Turns out he & my aunt had been stuck in traffic coming in to the airport, then he couldn’t find our gate, then he went the wrong way, etc… and he was mad enough to spit blood by the time he finally found us. The subsequent ride through Chicago was rather amusing as well, I learned many choice cuss words in about 3 different languages.

  4. OthelloAndreus says:

    Not only does Calgary airport have a cell phone waiting lot that others have described in their comments, the first half hour of short term parking is free. The short term parking is also directly across from arrivals. Very handy.

    • Fiona says:

      Whereas in Vancouver, you get charged $10 if you so much as look at the airport parking structure while driving through.

    • Cacao says:

      One time my sis came to pick me up at JFK. I was already waiting for her so we just returned to her freshly parked car. When we went through the pay booth, there was no charge for parking because she had been parked less than 15 mins. Plus, JFK will charge your EZPass for parking, if you have one.

  5. Hotscot says: on how to boil water:)

  6. Torchwood says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with point #1. My friends and I have an agreement: Once your plane hits the ground and you are able to call, call. There is no rush to get off the plane, and in the 30 minutes it takes to get off the plane and get the luggage, I can be driving there. Once I take the airport exit, I will call you to get a status report. The major airport also have a free waiting area with WiFi where I can wait.

    And, heck, my friend probably wants to grab a bite to eat after arriving, and there are several good restaurants that are open that are cheaper than the airport.

    • CRCError1970 says:

      Somewhat related to this… Every time I am on a plane that has just pulled up to the gate I am amused by people scrambling out of their seats like the plane has just caught fire and jump for the overhead bins.

      Then they stand in the aisle and wait for the door to open… run like there is a cash prize for getting to the baggage carousel first and crowd around it as close as they can get.

      Meanwhile I sit in my seat until the plane is virtually empty and stroll to the baggage claim, usually getting there just in time to hear the warning buzzer sound and the machine to start. On occasion I let my bags ride around more than once so I do not have to worry about knocking a family of six onto the belt since they think the entire clan is essential to the retrieval of their bags.

      • SpecK says:

        Where’s the +1? You sound like my kind of travel buddy.

      • Doubting thomas says:

        I am one of those people and I will not be changing my behavior. The small seats with no leg room cause painful cramps in my legs, So I stand up and let the blood begin flowing to my legs as soon as possible. I know the doors aren’t opened yet. I just am enjoying being able to feel my lower legs and feet again. Standing in the crowded isle is far more comfortable to me than sitting in the sardine can that passes for a seat.
        As far as the baggage I rush their too. Checked baggage return has no safety precautions and is a high theft area. I prefer to be the one who goes home with my bag.

  7. UlaniMosquito says:

    Park in the Cellphone lot and pick people up in the departure area, not arrivals. There’s always less traffic jams (at least at MIA and FLL) I’m assuming it is because people are in a hurry to leave but take their sweet a** time once they get to their destination.

    • bluline says:

      Agree. Pick-up at departure is much easier, especially if the traveler has only carry-on luggage.

    • jeffbone says:

      The benefit of picking people up on the departure side/level is rather time-sensitive. Some departure zones can be just as or more crowded than arrivals if the airlines have multiple departures scheduled for a short window. Trying to pick someone up in the United departure zone at IAD early in the morning would be an exercise in frustration, to say the least.

  8. chiieddy says:

    Cell Phone lots are your friend. Most major airports have these now.

  9. tracijenae says:

    Pretty much all major airports have cell phone waiting lots that are free. It would be useful for this article to point this out. It drives me nuts to see cars parked on the side of the ramp into the philly airport, when there is a free cell phone waiting lot that actually puts you closer to the pick up gates. Maybe the airports need to add the word free to the cell phone lot signs so that people will believe that they can actually use them!

  10. bravo369 says:

    Here’s the #1 tip which my family has been doing forever and may/may not work at every airport. Get your bags and then go back up 1 or 2 levels to the departure drop-off doors. EVERYONE goes to the arrivals to pick up people so there’s usually a line, double parked cars, cops telling people to move on, etc. Well at departures, people usually come, drop off, and go. Usually theres no cops there to move people along because people don’t usually loiter around waiting. It really makes the process so much easier and hassle free when picking people up.

    • Bob says:

      That won’t work for Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. The Atlanta cops have a reputation for enforcing the loading/unloading rule in BOTH arrivals and departures. Also I don’t know if our Airport has a cell phone lot. When I’m being picked up I text them when I land. As long as the driver is less than 30 minutes away it works out perfectly.

  11. oldgraygeek says:

    I just stick my car on the sidewalk and wait.
    (Oh, yeah, it is a Ford Police Interceptor, which helps).

  12. ekthesi says:

    At EWR, people simply pull over to the shoulder of I-78 (major highway running right past the airport) and wait for the call.

  13. madanthony says:

    When circling the airport, pay attention to speed limit signs and your speeds – lots of airports have very low speed limits, and lots of cops waiting to write speeding tickets…

  14. Fiona says:

    This is all well and good, but there’s something innately special about having someone waiting for you at the airport when you get off the plane. It’s a kind of welcome that having someone waiting for you at the curb just cannot replace.

  15. jeb says:

    At MSP, I park at one of the park and rides and take the light rail in. Costs $1.75 a person (unless it’s rush hour, when it’s $2.25), ands it takes you right into the airport so you can wait there to pick someone up, without dealing with the airport traffic.

    Also, if you’re checked in or flying Delta and only have carry-on bags, there’s a security checkpoint four floors up the escalators (or one floor up from ground transportation) that never has a line.

  16. ehchan says:

    At LAX, I always pick people up at the departure level. It has no center island to trap you in the terminal.

  17. LanMan04 says:

    Are there any airports left that don’t have “cell phone” lots? Seriously, this isn’t an issue anymore…

  18. Weekilter says:

    Not mentioned, but many airports now have “cellphone” waiting lots so your arrivee when they touch down can pick you up (call after you pick up your bag from the carousel.)

  19. abelenky says:

    Many airports have a separate Drop-Off and Pick-Up area. (The Drop-Off Area is closer to the ticket counters, while the Pick-Up area is by the baggage claim). Different areas are frequently much busier during certain times of the day. If you know that Arrivals or Departures will be more crowded, and your passenger doesn’t have checked baggage, have them meet you at whichever area is less busy.

    I find its often much easier to pick up passengers at the Drop-Off area in the late evening. Few people are departing, so its less crowded, while the Arrival area is jammed as all the flights arrive close together.

  20. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Our little airport has a cell phone lot away from the terminal where you can park to wait for the person. I never use it though; I like meeting my honey when he gets off the plane. It’s only a few bucks for the short term parking.

  21. red says:

    1. either do something near the airport or at home, depending how far away the airport is
    2. have your friend call on touchdown
    3. you now have 30 minutes to meet them if they are carry on only and 30-60 if they checked luggage/depending on size of airport.

    Its not that hard this was figured out once cell phones were common.

  22. maxhobbs says:

    My local airport has a great system. They have a “cell phone” parking lot just outside of the terminal. You pull up there (for FREE), they have a huge digital board that you can see while in your car that shows the flights coming in, delays, etc… and you are just a couple hundred yards from the front of the terminal.

    Very well planning.

  23. mommiest says:

    I met my husband at an airport 26 years ago. He was standing in line behind me and started conversing. We married four years later. He knew how to win the airport pick-up game.

  24. Tga123 says:

    I hesitate to share my secret… arrange your pickups to be at the departures level or area (or even a car rental “guest” parking), as these areas are usually much less congested than arrivals areas did to lots of cars and folks waiting for traditional arrival rides.

  25. technoreaper says:

    Some places have cell phone parking lots. Learned that the hard way when my friend got miffed because I went to the short term parking lot.

  26. wackydan says:

    Pick them up at DEPARTURES… Sometimes, if it is the slow time of the day for departures (Evening) you won’t have to deal with as much traffic in that area.

  27. gman863 says:

    You forgot the most important tip of all:

    “The red zone is for loading and unloading only. There is no parking in the white zone.”

    “No, the white zone is for loading and unloading only…”

    “Don’t start that red zone shit again. You just want me to have an abortion, don’t you?”

    40+ replies without an Airplane! reference yet. Sad.

  28. bonzombiekitty says:

    PHL has the same thing. They made them after years of people pulling off to the shoulder on the ramp to the airport on I-95. When it first opened the free cell phone lot, there was actually very poor cell phone coverage in the lot, but it’s fine now. It’s really nice. It’s simple to access, easy to get to pull around to pickup areas, plenty of space to park, and several boards with arrival info so even if a cell phone won’t be of use, you can estimate when it will be a good time to pull around. Of course, several years later, people STILL idle in the shoulder of the ramp and complain when a cop gives them a ticket.

  29. Captain Obvious says:

    I clicked here for dating advice.

  30. Contradictions says:

    My wife thinks it’s a great idea. She’ll go grab her bags by herself and wait for me by the curb so that I can drive up, throw her stuff in the trunk, and take off. Why don’t you just show up on time, great them when the get to the less secure part of the airport, and help them with their bags. There’s no reason to write steps to show you are a cheap bastard.

  31. Autoexec.bat says:

    Nothing to add, just putting in a plug for the greatest airport known to man, DCA.

  32. MrEvil says:

    I’d rather give someone shuttle fare than pick them up myself. Whenever I fly commercial I have the shuttle pick me up, and the shuttle drop me off at home. Cheaper than parking for a week and less of a headache. At most airports the Shuttles are allowed to remain parked out front indefinitely.

  33. Not Given says:

    We only have one airline that comes within an hour of here. I sign up for the texts they will send for notifying take offs, landings and delays. Then I shop until close to the time before heading to the airport.