Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft operated out of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) under temporary permits during this year’s South By Southwest, although ABIA had originally said only Lyft would be allowed to operate.

The two companies signed an agreement with ABIA on March 13, allowing them to pick up and drop off passengers there for 45 days.

While Lyft signed a yearlong agreement ABIA offered to the two companies on March 6, Uber did not. The agreement on March 13, just a week later, nullified Lyft’s yearlong arrangement. 

“The airport granted Uber a temporary permit, so we could have more time to negotiate a permanent solution,” Uber spokeswoman Debbee Hancock said.

The terms of the agreements required the companies to give the airport 10 percent of their gross revenue, a common standard for concessions operating at the airport, ABIA spokesman Jason Zielinski said.

“We’re a City department, but we’re one of the few that doesn’t receive tax dollars,” Zielinski said. “Every business that operates at the airport provides a portion of their gross earnings to the airport.”

According to Zielinski, after Uber did not sign the yearlong agreement by the March 6 deadline, the company’s drivers faced consequences for operating at the airport without a formal permit.

“Lyft began operating under that agreement and Uber was not,” Zielinski said. “So on March 9, their drivers began receiving warnings. On the 10th, they started receiving citations. Under City code, operating without a permit is up to a $500 fine — a class C misdemeanor.”

After Uber was banned from the airport, many people were unable to use the transportation options they had expected to use, Zielinski said.

“We experienced a large number of warnings and citations, and that was leaving passengers without a ride,” Zielinski said. 

Airports around the country are struggling with how to regulate ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, Zielinski said. While taxicabs have been part of airport transportation for years, ride-hailing companies are a different animal.

“Cabs work on $1 per trip fee,” Zielinski said. “Cabs have different regulations within the city. … Every airport is struggling with [ride-hailing companies] because they’re unlike other transportation operators.”

ABIA’s proposal would have also required ride-hailing companies to follow all the same rules as taxicabs. 

Zielinski said Uber’s financial records would not have been made public with this proposal.

“The information we receive is private — it’s something we look at and don’t publish,” Zielinski said. “If we were to look at anyone’s books, it wouldn’t be public information [because] we would not publish.”

Lyft spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt said Lyft was happy to be the official ride-hailing partner of SXSW.

“Austin is a city that embraces creative, innovative industries, and we were excited to be the first ridesharing partner authorized at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport,” Pruitt said. “We’d like to thank the ABIA staff for their leadership and commitment to preserving Lyft’s affordable, welcoming rides for Austin visitors and residents.”

On March 19, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport became the first airport in 2013 to adopt the Transportation Safety Administration’s PreCheck program, a pre-screening program that allows certain frequent fliers to be eligible for expedited screening. Austin-Bergstrom is the latest of 40 airports nationwide to institute the program.

Travelers get information embedded in the barcodes on their boarding passes, after which they are motioned to a specific lane where they undergo accelerated screening. Under the loosened regulations, these travelers are no longer required to remove their shoes, jackets, belts, liquids stored in their carry-on bags or laptops and tablets from their cases.

Those eligible for the accelerated screening program include U.S. citizens travelling domestically who are frequent fliers with participating airlines, as well as those who are members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS. In November 2012, Canadian citizens who are NEXUS members became eligible for the PreCheck program.

As a Canadian citizen who lacks NEXUS membership, I’m not an eligible participant, but it’s not because of bitterness that I question the program.

Creating an additional checkpoint for faster screening is a utilitarian solution of convenience that would allow all travelers to experience shorter lines and reduced waiting time. But this is a side effect of the program, not the underlying motivation behind it.

While this initiative appears progressive through its loosening of regulations for certain individuals, it represents another bureaucratic action taken by TSA that is publicized to appear as if the agency is actively making the country more secure.

According to TSA’s website, the intention behind PreCheck is “part of the agency’s larger effort to implement risk-based security concepts that enhance security by focusing efforts on travelers considered high-risk and about whom the agency knows less.”

Based on more than a decade of evidence, these “risk-based security concepts” have not been effective, instead resulting in unnecessary spending, complaints of civil rights violations and general inconvenience with no tangible gain.

In 2011, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the author of the legislation that initially established the TSA, called the entire operation a “fiasco.” Mica, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, stated in a 2011 interview with humanevents.com that TSA had become too bureaucratic and proposed that the agency, which employs more than 62,000 people, be dismantled and replaced with a privatized agency that would exceed no more than 5,000 employees.

Instead of taking preemptive measures, such as making passengers take off their shoes during the screening process after Richard Reid hid explosives in his shoes in December 2001, Mica outlined a better solution: The TSA would monitor specific terrorist threats and collect intelligence in order to be ahead of the danger rather than lagging behind it.

Mica’s voice is not alone. Michael Brenner, former lecturer of international relations and global studies at UT who specializes in American foreign policy and Middle East relations, said that the description of the entire TSA system as useless and unfounded is a well-circulated opinion within the professional realm.

“I know well a number of people in the intelligence and security field and all find the TSA system laughable,” Brenner said. “The changes over the past 12 years are not based on a serious risk calculation but on public relations considerations taken in a political context.”

The PreCheck program is promoted as serving a legitimate purpose: making the essential task of security more efficient by speeding up the process and not wasting time on trusted fliers. However, the program is also designated to accommodate and please the most preferred consumers — those who spend the most money on air travel.

The PreCheck program isn’t a bad idea because of monetary costs, as it is completely free and voluntary. However, I would like to see the TSA analyze and reconsider its general worth as an agency. Instead of trying to fix the broken pieces of an agency that has been labeled as failed by many, why not start from scratch?

Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies sophomore from Ploiesti, Romania.

Six cargo planes bound for Brazil and loaded with Formula 1 cars and equipment departed from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday, as officials transition from the challenge of Formula 1 travelers to the annual Thanksgiving rush.

Jason Zielinski, Austin-Bergstrom spokesman, said with added Thanksgiving and Formula 1 airport traffic, the wait time could be roughly an hour for many passengers, and they should arrive two hours early as an extra precaution through the period up to and following Thanksgiving. 

“Overall, Thanksgiving is always the busiest holiday at the airport,” Zielinski said. “The scenario is that most people get four days off, and with it being a big family holiday, they often like to fly home.” 

He said because people tend to have less time off for Thanksgiving than other holidays, they tend to travel on the same days, usually departing on the day before or on Thanksgiving and flying back Sunday.

Airport officials advise passengers to arrive at least two hours early if departing Sunday or Monday after the holiday. 

Zielinski said wait times last year peaked at an hour, and wait times during the regular travel season normally get up to 45 minutes.

He said although most who flew into town for this past weekend’s Formula 1 festivities were expected to fly back this past Sunday and Monday, some will be flying back during the heavy Thanksgiving travel days, worsening congestion. 

He said because this is the first year Austin has held a Formula 1 Grand Prix, it is hard to predict how it will continue to affect air travel.

Zielinski said there was a spike in the number of personal aircraft traveling into the area during Formula 1 that was not seen during other major Austin festivals including the Austin City Limits Music Festival and South By Southwest.

He said to better handle congestion, Austin-Bergstrom added an extra checkpoint with four additional Transportation Security Administration lanes and now has four checkpoints and 15 security lanes.

He said airport traffic has risen by roughly 3.5 percent when compared to this time last year. 

Zielinski said air travel has declined nationwide, but because Austin’s economy has remained strong, air travel in the city has increased.

Austin-Bergstrom officials advise passengers to frequently check their flight’s status for cancellations and delays.

Noted for it’s quality service, cleanliness, friendly employees and high-class restaurants, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) has been listed as one of the top-five airports by Airport Council International. ABIA has also received the Director General’s Roll of Excellence award for being included in this list for the fifth consecutive year.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was ranked as a top-five airport in service quality for the fifth year in a row by Airport Council International and received the new Director General’s Roll of Excellence award.

Jason Zielinski, spokesman for the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said the airport was one of 14 international airports to be placed on the Director General’s Roll of Excellence by Airport Council International.

“Austin-Bergstrom is to receive this new honor, and we join DFW as the only two airports in the U.S. to be recognized on the Director General’s Role of Excellence,” he said.

Zielinski said that to be recognized an airport must have had a top-five ranking in the Airport Quality Service Survey for five years.

Cheryl Marcell, spokesperson for Airport Council International, said the ACI council has been providing and conducting Airport Service Quality Surveys for five years at more than 200 airports worldwide.

“The surveys are conducted every quarter and include questions about things like the availability and convenience of retail stores, restaurants and parking, the cleanliness of rest rooms and the friendliness of employees,” Marcell said.

Journalism professor Robert Jensen said he is a “frequent flyer” at Austin-Bergstrom and has few complaints about services, despite the airport’s lack of free wireless Internet.

“I fly five to 10 times a semester for speaking engagements and Austin[-Bergstrom] is fairly comfortable,” Jensen said. “The lines are always manageable, the service has been good and there are multiple electrical outlets.”

He said it is small things such as easily accessible electrical outlets that give an airport convenience and make it easy for UT professors and other passengers to work while they are waiting for their flights.

Marcell said it is a tremendous honor for an airport in such a comparatively small city to be mentioned in the Director General’s Roll of Excellence, as it shows the airport’s commitment to customers.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will be 13 years old next year and, although new airports open every year, ABIA works to stay updated, clean, friendly and convenient, said Zielinski.

“It is very important to us that Austin-Bergstrom is reflective of Austin and Central Texas,” Zielinski said. “We are constantly looking for ways to improve the cleanliness and convenience [of the airport] and to add new flights and airlines and nonstop destinations.”

Zielinski said additionally, the airport has a $2.2 billion impact on Austin industry.

“Austin is high in education. Austin is high in business. Austin is high in government,” Zielinski said. “We think of ourselves as a gateway not only to Austin but to Central Texas.”

Printed on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 as: Austin-Bergstrom gains recognition as excellent airport