Pick Up Points: Helping the driver find you

Some of the do’s and don’ts to help speed up the process of your Uber driver finding you and be on your way.

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When you’ve got your account set up, it seems like it should be really easy to get an Uber to go somewhere. Generally that is the case. You open the app, it works out where you are, you tell it where you want to go, and confirm the request. But there seems to be a few things that people don’t always take into account that can mess it up.

Whether they’re minor inconveniences or real pains in the mikta (Stargate SG-1 fans know what I’m talking about), and whether they’re problems for the passenger, the driver, the surrounding people or some combination of all three, avoiding them will help you be on your way faster, help keep your driver from being annoyed with you and help everyone else around you keep going about their day.

It probably should go without saying, but every Uber driver is a little bit different. What one driver absolutely can’t stand, another may not even notice. Even with the same driver something can be more or less of an issue depending on how the day has been going, and how many times they’ve had this same problem recently. Having said that, these are still things to keep in mind. If you don’t follow these guidelines already, there’s a good chance your rating – and in some cases your bank balance – will thank you for getting on board with them.

Be Ready To Go

Cnr Harris & John Sts, Pyrmont
Its not so much the overgrown and derelict nature of the building, as the complete lack of people that makes me think this ride isn’t going to happen.

If you’re in a rush, it can be frustrating to request an Uber, only to see that its going to take more time than you thought it would for the driver to arrive. Perfectly understandable and reasonable, especially if you’re running late for wherever you need to be. Now reverse the roles: the driver arrives at the pickup location but there’s no sign of the passenger. “Am I at the right place?” “Did they actually mean to make the request?” “Maybe they’re not coming.” “Should I cancel this one, because its busy at the moment and I could get a good fare.” These are all things I’ve thought when I’ve arrived to an absence of passengers.

When we arrive at a pickup point, the Uber driver app starts a timer automatically, counting down from two minutes. If we don’t start the trip before that timer runs out, you as the passenger start being charged for the time we’re waiting on you. Technically you’ll only be charged if the ride actually starts, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. If the passenger cancels the ride at this point, they’re charged the cancellation fee. (At the moment that’s $10 in Sydney.)

The second thing to be aware of is that when the first timer runs out a new one starts counting from zero up to three minutes. This is showing the driver how much waiting time the passenger will be charged for. When this gets to three minutes, it stops counting and alerts the driver that they can cancel the ride and they’ll get a cancellation fee. And though it doesn’t work out exactly, what the driver is paid of the cancellation fee is roughly the same as what they’d be paid for a minimum fare plus three minutes of waiting time.

All of that means that to wait longer than a total of five minutes after arriving at the pickup location, a driver is gambling on the length of the ride. If its been five minutes and I’ve not seen any sign the passenger is coming, then I don’t really have a reason to stick around. Especially if its a busy time of day, more so if there’s surge pricing in the area.

So don’t request the ride until you’re ready to go. You don’t necessarily have to be standing at the kerb before you hit “Request UberX”, but you probably should be ready to step out the door. You’re much less likely to have to pay for the driver’s waiting time, which helps keep the trip a little bit cheaper.

And if you realise you’ve forgotten something and have to go back inside – especially if going inside involves potentially waiting for a lift up and back down, or traversing several flights of stairs – let your driver know what’s happening. Send them a message or call them and tell them you forgot to lock the back door, or left your other bag in your room, or whatever it is you’ve got to sort out. Your driver’s much more likely to stick around if they know you actually want to take the ride and are on your way.

Be Locatable

syd to per diff
Remember how I was booked for a pickup from Sydney Airport instead of Perth Airport? Sometimes GPS isn’t 100% accurate.

A lot of the time, GPS is great. You can see exactly where you are, and how to get to where you want to go. Sometimes though you might be in a spot where the GPS signal is a little spotty. The worst I’ve seen it is in and around the city, but you can run into black spots just about anywhere if the conditions are just right.

Its a good idea to double-check your pickup location once you’ve requested the ride. (This is easier to do if you’re already ready to be picked up when you make the request. That’s why I made it the first tip!) If the GPS was off, or if you’ve typed the pickup location to “make sure it was accurate” but made a typo, then obviously this gives you a chance to notice the problem and fix it before the driver has to change direction to get to you.

It also means that if for some reason you see that the app is directing to driver to the wrong spot, you can move the pickup location to correct for this. It seems that at least some of the time, when you drop the pin in the Uber app, it ignores the street in the address and instead finds the nearest bit of road to the pin and directs the driver there. This won’t always be a problem, but it can mean that the driver is sent around the nearby corner or to the lane way at the back of the house to make the pick up. In trying to get to you quickly, we don’t always notice this discrepancy.

If there’s something unusual about where you’re getting picked up from or perhaps it doesn’t translate well onto the map, you might need to get in touch with the driver to let them know. Sometimes new roads are built as part of new development areas, or roads are moved, blocked off, opened up or changed between one- and two-way, and they aren’t always updated in mapping apps as quick as you might like. Ongoing roadworks can also make an otherwise easy and direct drive into one that needs to take the long way round. *cough* George Street light rail works! *cough*

Be Recognisable

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Yeah, I’ve got no idea which of these people requested the Uber.
Once the driver gets to the vicinity, then they’ve got to try and find you. Again, for them to be able to do this you’ve got to be ready and waiting somewhere in view from the street, if not on the street. If there’s no one or at least very few people around, then just standing on the footpath somewhere that’s visible from the road is probably going to do the trick.

If there’s a lot of people around – especially if they’re looking at their phones and giving false “The Look“s – or you’re in a common area for people to be picked up from like a train station, concert site, airport, etc, its definitely a good idea to give your driver an extra advantage in finding you.

Either call or text your driver through the app, and tell them how to find you. Once you’re in contact with each other, it doesn’t take a lot for the driver to find you. Try to think about what would be easy for the driver to spot, and then pass that information on to them. Actual signposts can work well for this, though not necessarily parking signs because generally where this sort of clarification might be needed, there’s probably going to be a bunch of parking signs nearby.

If you’re in a fairly nondescript or uniform-looking area, then describing your appearance will probably help. Should the driver be looking for one person or a group? Do you have other things with you, like suitcases, an esky, or a large musical instrument? Are you wearing something distinctive, or at least some combination of things?

I’ll put it all together for you for a location I’ve done a few pickups from: Westfield Miranda. Now that’s a pretty big location, with a lot of potential pick up points. Depending on the time of day, regardless of which point you decide on, there could be a lot of people around, let alone people waiting to be picked up by someone else. Here’s an example text message that would work great for the bus stop near the big tree: (If you don’t know it, this is the Google StreetView for the spot. The big tree is behind/to the left when you open it up): “Look for the woman standing next to the bench. I’m wearing a white hat, sunglasses and a blue top.”

In Summary

I was literally writing out a bullet point summary of what’s above, when I kept ending each point with “let the driver know”. If in doubt about something, you’re not sure the driver will be able to get to you easily, or spot you when they arrive, get in touch with them. There have been times when I’ve arrived and the passenger couldn’t find me, when I’ve been able to spot them because they were on the phone to me at the time and I could see them walking around, holding a phone to their ear and were clearly looking for someone.

The driver either has gone or is going to the effort of reaching the pick up location. They don’t want it to be for nothing, and you don’t want to wear a cancellation charge and/or have to wait for another driver to show up, so help them and yourself out. Follow these tips and you’ll save time, money and hassle, and you improve your chances of a 5-star rating from your driver.

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Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your smile, You’re the reason I’m pulling up at the kerb and putting my hazard lights on, hoping not to get booked for stopping in a No Stopping zone.

looking-e1423852565370-1024x683[1]
The map says I’m coming from the exact opposite direction you’re looking, but I’m sure you’ll spot me soon enough…
I’ve spoken about “The Look” before. It’s something we drivers learn to recognise to help give us a chance in picking out who our passenger is for the next ride we’re about to go on. It usually involves someone standing on the footpath, holding their phone and looking between it and up the road towards the cars coming towards them. It’s easier when there’s luggage on the ground next to them (as well as a clue that we’re likely heading to the airport) and a source of frustration (and temptation to cancel) when their smoking a cigarette, doubly so when they spot you and immediately go to put the cigarette out.

A quick personal observation is that it often seems these people are looking in the wrong direction in that glance up from their phone. That’s despite having just seen which direction their driver is coming from, courtesy of the map in the app on their phone. Yes, they could be looking at something other than the Uber app, such as emails, Twitter, an extremely well written blog that hasn’t been updated in a while, hoping to see a new entry to brighten their day. And yes, I could be remembering the ones who look the wrong way more so than the ones who look in the right direction. Even so, there’s more that look the other way than you might think.

Anyway, where was I? Right; the Look. One of the reasons why we pick up on the cues passengers give is that we often don’t have much else to go on. As a passenger, you get to see the name of the driver, but also a photo of their face, the make and model of the car they’re driving as well as its number plate. Also, if you’re tracking the car and are outside by the road ready for it to arrive, you get to match it up with the timing of its arrival and the direction its coming from. To be fair the last one can be off if the GPS is spotty where you are getting picked up from, but you should still be able to get an idea from all of that combined.

On the other side of that equation, drivers get the name of the passenger and the location to pick them up from. Now let’s ignore the possibility that the person who made the ride request might not be the person actually getting in the car. I’ve had numerous rides where a spouse or partner has booked the ride for their significant other. Parents have booked rides for their child or vice versa. Sometimes friends have booked for friends. In one case, an assistant or similarly professionally-related person booked the ride for a former presenter on a children’s ABC TV show. (Hint: that week we went through the round window to my childhood.)

Even assuming the person who booked the ride is the person, or at least one of the people going on the ride, its still tricky for the driver. Though the name can be a clue to help the driver know who to look out for, sometimes they can be useless. To be fair, most of the time they at least give some indication of gender. “John” is a pretty strong clue that I should be looking for a man, “Amy” is likewise a pretty good indicator to keep an eye out for a woman. On the rare occasion that the name shown is a series of non-English characters generally indicate that I’m looking for someone of Asian heritage, or on a couple of occasions someone from the Middle East. On the flip side of this is when I see a name like “Sam”, “Alex” or “Chris”, or ones that I’ve not heard before or otherwise don’t recognise. There I don’t know the gender or ethnicity, so it could be anyone.

Also the location for the pickup isn’t always a helpful indicator either. Sometimes its that the pickup is actually from number 26 instead of 28 as it says in the app. Perhaps its a building that’s on the corner of an intersection, and neither side is obviously “the front” or the likely candidate for someone to wait for a car. Other times its the combination of the app deciding to not indicate which side of the road the pickup is set for, and not being able to see which side of the street has the even or odd numbers. (For the record, if you’re wondering why your Uber driver doesn’t come down your long driveway for the pickup, this is probably why. If its an issue, call them when they’re on their way!) And then there are the times where there’s nowhere legal, or at least out of other people’s way, to stop making it difficult to wait for someone who may or may not be waiting in view for me.

Most of the time its not an issue. I show up, and either the passenger is there waiting for me at the right spot and gets in straight away, or I find the spot and the passenger comes to me. On occasion though it doesn’t work out. There are times where I will never know what went wrong, because I waited the minimum five minutes with no sign of anyone even looking my way let alone coming to the car, and no contact from the passenger through the app, so I cancelled the trip and moved on. Other times they cancel on me, with or without notice, and possibly before or after I arrive at the location. Then there are the weird ones where someone else gets in the car. There’s been four times in several thousand trips I’ve accepted where someone has gotten in my car and not been my allocated passenger.

I don’t really understand how that’s possible, especially given how often I’ll see my eventual passenger double- and triple-check the number plate of my car against what’s on their phone, followed up by a tap on the passenger window while mouthing “Uber” at me, and then followed by opening the door and asking “Are you <name>?”

At the end of the day, no matter how sure we might be that you are our passenger, we never know it until you actually get in. Sometimes not even then. So please help us out. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, and look for your driver and their car. You’re more likely to identify us definitively than we are you.

Multi-Stop Trips: How to Uber all over town in one go

Picking up another passenger on the way? Dropping someone off before the final destination? Got a series of stops to make before the ride’s over? Some thoughts on how to handle a multi-stop Uber trip.

When I first came up with the idea to write about this topic, I’d had a few a trips in a row where people wanted to stop at several points rather than the standard point A to point B trips that are so much more common. Each time I had one there were variations on how the passengers had initially requested their ride and how they presented the situation to me when they got in. In the lead up to posting this I was thinking through what I felt would be the best way to handle this sort of situation. The other day I even had two trips in a row from the one passenger, the first ride being straight forward and the second having three different stops. It helped to remind me that I should post about this soon.

And then I saw an update in the app and I thought “Well there goes that blog post…“:

We're making multiple stops smoother
For the uninitiated, this is usually how Uber announces things to drivers.

So instead of talking about my detailed theories about the best way to manipulate the Uber system to handle a trip with several stops and be as simple for both you the passenger and for your driver to handle, I figured this would be about how to do it with the system.

How It Works

Its pretty darn simple really, particularly if you’ve ever plotted out a multi-stop trip in Google Maps.

Tap on the “Where to?” box same as always, but whereas before you’d start typing straight away, tap the “+” symbol that comes up next to where you’d type in your destination. You’ll see the screen change a little, including the “Where to?” box change to “Add a stop”. Once you’ve done that, enter the details for the first stop on the journey as you would normally. Once that’s done you’ll see another “Add a stop” box below where the first one was. Keep repeating the process, adding the next stop, then the next, and so on until the full journey has been entered.

Once set, hit “Save” and the app will show you the path for the full journey as it does normally. Don’t be surprised if the path doesn’t look particularly straight, as it will go from point to point to point. After that it works the same way as a normal trip. If you’ve left out a stop, made a mistake, or just want to check that you’ve set it all up correctly, tap on either the beginning or end point of the trip to bring up the list of stops again, and make any changes you need to.

Please Be Nice

This is a new feature. Obviously that means that there may be some changes along the way to how its implemented and how its used. Uber don’t intentionally make things hard to use, so if my instructions here are out of date, either they likely won’t be too far off or it will be relatively easy to work out.

Another element to this being new is that drivers won’t necessarily be familiar with it. I’m a full-time driver and I haven’t seen it in action yet. If you get a part-time driver, its even less likely that they’ll know what’s happening automatically if you’re booking a multi-stop trip.

My point here is it’d be mighty appreciated by your driver just to mention that there’s going to be multiple stops. Besides just being polite, it lets the driver know what to expect when you get to the first stop. If either there’s been a problem with the booking or you’ve made a mistake without realising it, it also means the driver can adjust to the situation and hopefully make the whole ride experience as smooth as possible.

Going to and coming from Sydney Airport: Domestic Terminal

The ins and outs of getting in and out of Sydney Airport’s domestic terminal.

Sydney_Airport_(2004)_By_Air
Sydney Airport, with the Domestic Terminal (T2 & T3) on the left
and the International Terminal (T1) at the bottom

Two weeks ago I posted about using Uber at the international terminal of Sydney Airport. It was originally going cover both terminals but it started to get to be a bit long overall, so this week you get the second half, covering the domestic terminal.

Now just as last week I gave a disclaimer, I’m giving the same one here as well: things change. I can all but guarantee that at some point after this is originally posted, either Sydney Airport or Uber will change how they operate and at least some part of this post will no longer be correct. Though I’ll try my best to update it if there are changes, if the date on this is long in the past when you’re reading it, you can always check Ride Uber at Sydney Airport for the latest info from Uber themselves.

Heading to the airport

If you’re going to be flying somewhere within Australia, you’ll be flying out of the domestic terminal. However there’s a snag that can catch some people up: the domestic terminal is actually two seperate buildings: T2 and T3. (T1 is the international terminal, in case you’re wondering.) Now your boarding pass, itinerary, or whatever other documentation you’ve got for your flight will probably indicate T2 or T3, but don’t be too concerned about remembering or forgetting that detail. Just remember which airline you’re flying with: Qantas domestic flights fly out of T3, while all other domestic flights fly out of T2. I expect most drivers will check with you at some point on the trip about either which terminal or which airline you’re using, as though its not nearly as bad as being at the international terminal by mistake, being dropped off at the wrong building and getting to the correct one ranges from ‘minor inconvenience’ if you’ve got plenty of time to ‘#$%@&^’ if you’re supposed to be boarding the plane right now.

Leaving the Airport

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Make sure you’re being picked up from the domestic terminal.

The basic process is pretty much the same for the domestic terminal as it is for the international, just some of the details are a little different. You’re looking for the “Priority Pickup Area” rather than the express, and instead of yellow signs you should follow the green signs. (Just to be slightly confusing, there is an express pickup area for the domestic terminal, and like at the international terminal, its marked by yellow signs. To be less confusing, the path to the express pickup area is the same as the priority one, only you continue past the priority area to reach the express.) For those of you who have an idea about the layout of the domestic terminal, the priority pickup area is in between T2 and T3, part of the parking structures for them.

The pickup area is essentially split in two, with a covered area for passengers to wait in the middle. Cars enter the area on the right-hand side (when facing the way you were when you enter the area) and leave from the left. Assuming you don’t spot your driver’s car as you approach and enter the area – or haven’t heard from them letting you know exactly where they are – by all means head where everyone else is likely to be waiting: the covered area, facing the vehicle entrance to the car park.

IMG_2426
Confirm you’re pick up from the Priority Pick-Up area.

However, please don’t expect your driver to wait just inside the entrance for you to get in their car, especially if you have luggage that may need to be loaded in the boot. Though it is easy for the driver to stop there, its very difficult for anyone else to get past the car, causing delays for everyone. In fact if you get to the pickup area ahead of your driver and its a busy period, you may notice others do the same thing, blocking the entrance and delaying your driver in arriving. When I enter the pickup area, I scan the faces of the waiting passengers for a look of recognition headed my way. (A wave at me works too.) If they start heading my way I’ll signal them that I’m headed around the other side. This means they won’t have to go to far, I can pull up out of the way of the other cars, I can park in a valid spot to help with any luggage they have – whether it be just getting it into the car, or putting down seats and tetris-ing the bags to fit into the space – and it’ll save them a tiny amount on the fare for the shorter distance and time on the ride. Likewise if I don’t get any recognition, I head to the that other side. (Its marked as the “B” area, with “A” being the entrance side, and “C” being the expanded area that’s under cover from the rest of the parking structure, and in my experience at least is rarely actually used.) That’s where I send my “here I am” message to the rider from.

It applies to every ride, especially at the airport where it isn’t always clear how everything is supposed to work, and even more especially to the occassional flyer, but if you aren’t sure where you are, where you’re supposed to be, or how to get there, let your driver know. Chances are we’ve got some familiarity with the airport’s layout, and we have a chance to help work out what the problem is. (And it can help avoid accidental trans-continental rides, too.)

Going to and coming from Sydney Airport: International Terminal

The ins and outs of getting in and out of Sydney Airport’s international terminal.

SYDNEYAIRPORT_1
The international terminal (T1) at Sydney Airport.

You’re either flying in or out of Sydney. You’ve got plenty of luggage. You don’t want to bug a friend to give you a lift to the airport, or you don’t have a friend to pick you up because you’re on holidays/business trip/something that means you either don’t know anyone here or don’t know them well enough to bug them to pick you up. Public transport won’t work either, because that luggage is going to be awkward on the train or bus, and the ferry and light rail certainly won’t get you all the way.

Despite what some people out there seem to think, you can book an Uber both going to and coming from the airport. Some of the confusion may have come about because initially Sydney Airport didn’t let Uber do pick ups from there. Their reasoning didn’t make sense to me at the time – still doesn’t really – but that doesn’t matter too much now because they changed their minds; they couldn’t stop Ubers from dropping people off at the airport, and at least some passengers found sneaky ways of getting around the blocks that Uber put in the app to try and prevent the pickups from happening. The airport has even accepted Uber, providing areas for us to work at both terminals.

Please keep in mind that things change, particularly it seems at Sydney Airport. So while this information is as correct as I can make it at the moment, if you’re reading this in the future it might be out of date. I’ll endeavor to post updates if and when they’re needed, but just in case you see the official information from Uber at Ride Uber at Sydney Airport.

Initially this post was going to cover both the international and domestic terminals, but it started to get quite long. I’ve split them out into two separate posts now, with this one talking about the international. (You probably guessed that from the title.) Next week’s post will be about the domestic terminal, which if its been posted by the time you’re reading this, will probably be linked to here.

Heading to the airport

Now getting to the airport in an Uber is about as simple as getting to anywhere else. There are a few things to keep in mind, particularly if you’re not a local. First, make sure you know which terminal you need to go to; the international and domestic terminals are on the opposite sides of the airport from each other, which means it is very helpful for your Uber driver to know which terminal you’re headed to ahead of time. Depending on the time of day, traffic around the airport can get a little bogged down. You’re driver will probably check with you when they pick you up which terminal you need to get to – I make sure I do – but putting the right one in as your destination when you book the ride may mean the difference between a panicked race to board your plane and a calm walk to the gate.

Leaving the airport

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Make sure you’re being picked up from the international terminal.

Uber recommends that for all airports it operates at to request your ride after you’ve “Elvis-ed”… You know, “left the building”. Certainly in the case of Sydney, there are rules about where someone can pick you up from, so once you’ve left the building it should at least minimize how far you’ll have to walk to the actual pick up point. Now where to go works a little differently depending on the specific type of Uber service you’ll use, so I’ll just talk about the main type that most people mean when they say “Uber”: UberX. (Please note, if you’re someone that uses the higher end Uber services like UberBLACK, I’m both happy that you’re reading my blog and surprised; if I’ve not yet set up some sort of donation feature when you’re reading this, feel free to contact me to arrange a donation through Twitter or the contact form to the side of this page.) In the app, it should recognize that you’re at the airport and give you an option between the “International” and “Domestic”, and once you’ve selected the international terminal it’ll confirm the pickup for “Express Pick-Up (Yellow)”. Once confirmed, your driver will be on their way.

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Confirm you’re pick up from the Express Pick-Up area.

As the app suggested, you’re looking for the “Express Pickup Area”, which you should be able to do by following yellow signs. As you come out of the terminal building, you’ll need to walk through the P7 parking building. There is a path you can follow, and unless it was a particularly empty flight or you’re either very fast or slow when walking, there should be a number of people going the same way.

After you come out of the car park building, you’ll need to cross a couple of roadways to get to the pickup area itself. When you’ve done that, you’ll see a covered pedestrian waiting area continuing away from the terminal, and parking areas on both sides of this: you’re Uber driver will be waiting for you on the right-hand side as you walk towards it, not the left – if they’re not waiting for you yet they’ll be making their way to that side.

When I’m picking someone up from here, when I pull up I do a quick scan of the people waiting, and if I don’t spot anyone headed my way or acknowledging me, I’ll send a text message through the Uber app to let them know I’ve made it, and if its particularly busy and so maybe difficult to spot my car amongst the others, I’ll also give some idea of where I’ve parked. If you get to the pickup area and haven’t heard from or found your driver, its a good idea to let your driver know you’re ready, and give them something to look for when they arrive. Remember that we only get your name on our end; we don’t know what you look like, we don’t know how many people are in your group or if you’re alone, or anything else that might help us out. Giving us an idea of whereabouts you are, or what you look like can help us find you and get you on your way to your destination that much faster.

You might be having trouble finding the pickup area. You or someone in your group might only be able to move fairly slowly for one reason or another. If that’s the case, I’d recommend letting your driver know. If a car is in the express pickup area for longer than 15 minutes, it costs the driver $8. Obviously we don’t want to pay that if we don’t have to, and I know that I’m not able to comfortably ask my passengers for the $8 and still legitimately hope for a 5-star rating. I also know that once we find each other, it’ll take a little bit of time to get the luggage packed into the car – especially if there’s a lot and it needs to be rearranged to fit, maybe one of the back seats put down – and to get actually get to the exit gates of the car park, so if I’ve not seen my passengers or heard from them within 10 minutes of entering the pickup area, I’m going to cancel the ride and leave.

However, if I’ve got a message or a call from them, and I know that they’re on the way and they’re just taking a bit more time than usual to get to the pickup area, I can keep the pickup request active and just leave the pickup area and come back to reset the time – essentially circling the block. That will generally be faster for you the passenger than having to make a new request and waiting for the new driver to arrive, especially if you don’t notice straight away that the first driver cancelled. When this happens I let the passenger know that I’m going to leave and come back, so they’re not “abandoned” if they arrive at the pickup area and I’m not there.

And that’s pretty much it. It might seem a little complicated, but plenty of people have done it, and I’ve had more than a few passengers mention to me after I’ve picked them up from the airport that it was their first Uber ride ever. Remember that if you do get confused, lost, or just don’t know what to do, contact your driver and let them know, and there’s a good chance they’ll be able to help you out. Also, the app notices when you’re near the airport and can offer some advice if you need it.