A Simple Tip for Using My Home Airport: Austin

Austin is the fastest growing airport in the country, no doubt why Delta is talking about making it a focus city. The biggest airline here is Southwest, followed by American. Even Norwegian has come to Austin, so more than one airline flies to London.

Credit: Airline Weekly, Year-Over-Year Seat Capacity for Q3

The Delta SkyClub that opens along with the new gate additions next year will have a Sky Deck. There’s a United Club and an American club, sadly the renovation of the American club seems to be on ice (the place is always packed, not least of which before the British Airways London flight).

American Airlines Admirals Club, Austin

Salt Lick isn’t good barbecue, though I suppose it’s good for airport barbecue. Give it a miss and eat at Second Bar + Grill or Peached Tortilla.

And order your morning coffee by app when you arrive at PreCheck and then pick it up from the coffee robot as soon as you’re through.

Gates are being renumbered overnight July 31 to prepare for next year’s new gate additions, so the new gates don’t have to have negative numbers.

Credit: Austin Bergstrom International Airport

Austin’s airport is packed to the gills. There’s been plenty of construction, like the brand new Hyatt Place right next to the Hilton on airport grounds. There’s a new South Terminal servicing Allegiant and Via Air. It offers an outdoor patio for food trucks.

But the main terminal can be difficult to even move through at peak times. One of the worst ways this manifests itself is cars getting in, through, and out of the arrivals area to pick up passengers. It can take 10 minutes just to drive from the cell phone lot to passenger pickup.

Things are going to get worse for pickups with more gates bringing more flights and more passengers, since no changes to the arrivals pickup lanes are expected for years.

The tip here, though, is simple: avoid pickups at arrivals altogether especially in the evening and get picked up at departures instead. There are few evening departures from Austin, so the upstairs departures level is mostly empty.

And this is permitted, too. New electronic signs beneath the names of airline names in front of the terminal read “DROP OFF PICKUP ONLY.” The airport officially encourages upstairs pickups! I’ve also never had an Uber driver refuse an upstairs pickup. You have to specify a pickup location at arrivals, but I then immediately send a pickup message asking for upstairs pickup. The driver almost always thanks me (and this is probably why my Uber rating has climbed to nearly 4.9).

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Great article, Gary.

    The pickup/dropoff mess reminds me of RDU, my former home airport, which would always close the departures level after sundown and force all cars to the arrivals level, which was cramped and always staffed by the most bitchy power tripping traffic cops you can imagine.

  2. This is not true at SFO where the airport authority has made it a complete cluster. Good luck getting into or out of the airport especially early evenings as the inbound flights for the red eyes arrive with passengers and all the red eye passengers get dropped off — all on the departures level.

  3. @AdamH — if an airport runs out of space, which I can’t blame them for, they should adopt the London approach. Don’t allow private cars in the terminal curbside. Only allow remote parking; if people want to meet & greet, take a shuttle to and from the terminal.

  4. I’ve had multiple drivers tell me that they aren’t allowed to pick up upstairs anymore. I had this exact conversation with a driver Friday night, he told me he has even heard of them ticketing drivers who do it.

  5. Love the advice (have used it quite a bit myself at AUS and other airports), minus the “Salk Lick isn’t good BBQ” comment. As a born and raised Austinite turned Seattle resident, I can vouch for the fact that the Salt Lick is good BBQ. Not the same as the Driftwood location or not the best in town, I understand and concur, but perhaps stating “As a Salk Lick alternative, try…” would be better advice. Come up to Seattle if you’re looking for bad BBQ.

  6. Same at most two level airports. LAX is another example – and it works both ways depending on where the congestion is.

  7. @Daniel W – there’s no Salt Lick alternative to barbecue in the airport, but there’s a Peached Tortilla and a Second Street Bar and Grill.

    In terms of good barbecue in the Austin area…

    La Barbecue
    Black’s (Lockhart)
    Lambert’s (for sit down barbecue)

  8. The fact that an airport allows personal cars to pick up at a spot like the arrivals level doesn’t necessarily mean that ride share drivers are also allowed to pick up there. Many airports limit Lyft and Uber to specific designated areas.

    Still, as a passenger, it’s a good tip to make that request. The driver can always say no, and pick you up at arrivals instead.

  9. Every rideshare driver I call appreciates picking up upstairs since it avoids the downstairs mess. I am always thanked for this.

    And there has never been anyone outside monitoring or scolding.

  10. I’ve been using the upstairs or departures area for pick up for a few years! Thanks for your awesome tips!

  11. AUS is my co-home airport (with GRK), so I usually just arrive in enough time to grab a drink or two from the AC, but if I’m caught by a delay, Salt Lick is still my first choice for breakfast.

    Honestly, I don’t think that there are really any standout options for AUS dining, but as long as you don’t go in expecting the same quality as homebase, Salt Lick’s airport outpost is a perfectly cromulent choice.

  12. SLC will soon change, once the new terminal is done, but to this point it’s been silly to use the arrivals curb to pick up. Departures are signed to the inside curb and arrivals to the outside curb, all on the same ground level…so arrivals are crossing the departures lanes of traffic to get to their curb. And yet people still haven’t been using the departures side of things for pickup. True, airport police patrol the departures curb more often, so it’s hard to wait there, and probably because it’s closer to the terminal.

    I’m sure there are many airports where a little creativity goes a long way.

  13. Great stuff Gary, thanks. I knew the Salt Lick comment would bring a few comments. I’m not crazy about Blacks Lockhart, and Blacks Austin – never again. A beef rib and a Shiner Bock at Ironworks makes me pretty happy.

    Honestly my head blows up and I feel like I was asleep for 19 years reading about the overcrowding and expansion of Bergstrom. It opened just yesterday right? Just like Staples Center, closer to my home? I still remember Bobby Mueller well.

    What is happening in Austin is once in a generation type stuff, and it hasn’t stopped since my first visit in 1993. Why didn’t I buy a duplex near Zilker, for a nickel!

  14. I was dropping someone off the other day and I realized 40% of the slowness in car traffic moving through the terminal arrival or departure is due to cross walks. They really need to build an above ground pedestrian bridge to cut down on cars having to wait for the endless number of people crossing the road, this is notable near the Southwest/Delta end where the Rental Car foot traffic is continuous.

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