Jason Zielinski

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.”

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

As South By Southwest 2014 comes to a close, business managers and Austin transportation officials expect data to reveal record numbers of visitors and passengers.

The AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center — the only hotel and conference center on the University campus — was at near-full capacity during the festival, according to Keith Purcell, sales and marketing director. 

“The hotel’s very busy because we’re sold out, but our conference center is pretty much empty,” Purcell said. 

Purcell said management staff shifted the hotel’s hours of operation to accommodate different groups.

“Interactive starts early, so we opened our coffee shop early,” Purcell said. 

During the 2013 SXSW festival, Capital Metro had a record number of riders and an increase of almost 40 percent on MetroRail, according to CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala. Data for this year’s festival were not available as of press time.

In anticipation of significant transportation demand during this year’s festival, Ayala said CapMetro extended operation hours and added extra trains that picked up passengers at the end of the night.

Ayala said CapMetro also added 1,500 hours of bus service along several routes and determined specific route detours based on street access, congestion and route directness.

Jason Zielinski, spokesman at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said March is typically a busy month for the airport. 

“We’re getting more flights,” Zielinski said. “We’re getting more airlines.” 

Zielinski said the airport has large crowds on the last two days of the festival. According to Zielinski, airlines at Austin airport had a record 10 million passengers last year. Zielinski said, so far, passenger traffic in March has increased by 6 percent compared to March 2013. 

Obama leaves Austin, minor delays at Austin-Bergstrom airport

Rainy weather did not take away from President Obama's visit to Austin, but the presidential limo will probably need a car wash.

The vehicles comprising the presidential motorcade were streaked with gravel and dirt as they entered the southern terminal of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for the president's departure at approximately 6 p.m., rounding out the president's first stop in his series of Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tours.

According to Jason Zielinski, public information specialist for the Austin-Bergstrom airport, security measures for the president's arrival and departure were conducted according to standard Federal Aviation Administration protocol.

Prior to the president's arrival and departure, all activity on runways is temporarily halted in what is called a "ground freeze," Zeilinski said.

“Everything stops until he's in the air,” Zielinski said. “There's not movement at all. That means no flights are coming in or departing. It's standard FAA protocol for the president wherever he goes.”

Zielinksi said flight delays are minimal during a ground freeze.

“Airlines are aware of the ground freeze ahead of time, so they plan accordingly,” Zielinski said. “As far as passengers who may have been inconvenienced in any way, it was a very minor delay – no cancellations or anything like that.” 

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