When someone comes into town do you pick them up at the airport? It’s a lot easier, especially with electronic requests for a ride and just entering an address into a phone app (and no need for local currency, even), to just have them Uber or Lyft. In some parts of the world it’s Grab or Didi.
But picking up someone from the airport is an act of love. It takes effort and planning. It’s twice as much driving, and it involves waiting. It’s precisely because it is harder and more costly that it works as a signal of how much you care.
Picking someone up (or taking them to) the airport is such a signal of intimacy that it has entered popular culture. From “When Harry Met Sally” to “Seinfeld,” the act of transporting a person to or from the airport shows that you care. A lot.
I’m reminded of those wonderful opening and closing scenes in the movie “Love Actually,” consisting of an extended montage of people greeting one another at an airport terminal and — hugging their hearts out.
In a male relationship, picking up someone at the airport is going all the way, akin to helping someone move.
There are several strategies for picking someone up at the airport.
- Cell phone waiting lot. Have them call you when they land (or monitor it yourself online) and approach the terminal when they’re ready to be picked up, timing depending on whether they have checked bags to wait for or not. Call this “the drive by.”
- Pick them up at departures rather than arrivals, since that’s often less crowded. Call this “the expert move.” This shows them you know what you’re doing, they’re in capable hands.
This is especially useful with no checked bags as they don’t need to head down to baggage claim. With checked bags it usually means heading back upstairs – with luggage – and isn’t helpful.
- Park and go inside the terminal this is more expensive (parking cost) and more time-consuming, but it’s a more intimate gesture. You greet them earlier and escort them out, helping them with their bags. It shows next-level caring and that you couldn’t wait to see them. Call this “next level caring.” You need to research where to meet them, knowing where they’re going to come out of security, and take care not to miss them though. This takes extra work if you are surprising them, and it’s much easier if you coordinate meeting them via text.
- Meet them at their gate. This is next level because it’s unexpected in the post-9/11 world and because it takes real effort and thus is a more powerful signal to the person you’re meeting. Call this “the bold gesture.”
For this you either need a gate pass or a ticket to go through security (in the U.S.). Several airports let you arrange in advance to go through security when you’re not flying, because they want more concessions spend. You can get a gate pass if you’re renting an American Airlines Admirals Club conference room ($65 for members/$85 for non-members). Or buy a refundable ticket, use it to go through security, and cancel the ticket – though consistently buying tickets you do not intend to use may get you in trouble with the airline.
Here’s the next challenge. Say you meet someone at the airport, and whether you meet them at the gate, just outside security, or outside the terminal (you want to get out of your vehicle and help them with any bags) how do you greet them because the greeting says everything about your relationship. Is it a hug and how long does it last? A hearty hand shake? Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander obsessed over the airport pickup greeting:
The funny thing is that when you ride by yourself to and from the airport in an Uber you can work in the back seat. Someone picking you up might be late, and someone taking you to the airport means you’re relying on two people – you and them – to be ready to leave on time. Doesn’t that double the chances you’ll be late?
From a pure efficiency standpoint doing the airport trip solo is a winner. But when someone offers to take you or pick you up can you really decline – precisely because it’s such a grand gesture and show of intimacy, saying no is declining the person and not just the favor.