Detour for Sidecar & uberX at LAX & SFO


Ride-sharing services provided by companies such as Lyft, Sidecar and uberX have become popular, if somewhat controversial, lower-cost alternatives to traditional taxicabs in many cities and at many airports.

The services match people who need rides with mobile app-dispatched citizen drivers willing to provide rides and accept a fee.

But, citing an aggressive stance by authorities at Los Angeles International Airport for issuing citations to drivers picking up passengers there, Uber and Sidecar have recently pulled the plug on that part of their LAX service.

“Although we look forward to working with the authorities to resolve these issues quickly, this unwarranted action by authorities to punish drivers and riders cannot continue,” Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes wrote in a company blog post a week ago. “That’s why we’re temporarily halting uberX pick-ups at LAX effective immediately.”

Noyes told CNBC there were no projections on when the uberX pickup service might resume, but that for now uberX drivers are still dropping off passengers at LAX. The company’s other services, UberBLACK and UberSUV, which work with licensed commercial drivers, continue both pickups and dropoffs at LAX, he said.

Sidecar spokeswoman Margaret Ryan said via email that because the company has heard of the increased enforcement action at LAX, “we’ve advised Los Angeles drivers to avoid picking up passengers at LAX as well.”

In an email, Los Angeles Airport Police spokeswoman Sgt. Belinda Nettles said “no special enforcement is taking place” against uberX, Sidecar or other ride-share drivers. Only that “airport police officers are enforcing airport rules and regulations, as well as any violations pertaining to the penal code, vehicle code and the Los Angeles municipal codes as appropriate.”

At issue are the first round of rules issued by the California Public Utilities Commission for regulating companies such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft, which the commission calls transportation network companies. “The question of picking up passengers by TNCs is still under review” by the commission, and TNCs wishing to serve the airport also need licenses or permits, and insurance, to do business at LAX, Nettles said.

Nettles said Thursday she was unable to provide information on what types of citations were issued to uberX drivers. “We cite for airport rules and regulation violations and California vehicle and penal code violations as appropriate daily,” she said.

LAX is not the only airport that has taken action against ride-sharing companies.

In April, San Francisco International Airport issued a cease and desist order to ride-sharing services operating there. “These were enforced primarily through admonishments, and some citations were also issued,” said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel.

Like many other airports, San Francisco has rules stating that each business that provides ground transportation, rental car or airport parking services must get an airport permit .

In response, Uber published a blog post in August with tips for riders at SFO noting that pickups by Uber services were unaffected, but that “SFO has taken an aggressive stance against uberX and has begun citing some drivers.” The company suggested fliers instead use another Uber ride service, such as UberBLACK or UberSUV.

Ryan said Sidecar is working with the state utilities commission to work out a solution but that in response to the cease and desist order, “we’ve advised San Francisco drivers to avoid trips to SFO until we’ve figured it out.”

Lyft has not yet responded to a request from CNBC for the status of its services at LAX or SFO.

For its part, SFO airport, which recently came to an agreement with car-sharing service Relay Rides, remains “open to new business models that provide our customers with a variety of transportation options,” said Yakel.

He said while the decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to regulate transportation network companies provides a framework to move forward with a permitting process at SFO, “we have yet to receive word of any TNC attempting to operate at SFO being permitted through the CPUC.”

(My story about ride-sharing services at SFO and LAX first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Travel contests: because you can’t win if you don’t play


I’m a big believer in “you can’t win if you don’t play,” so here are a few contests to enter with great travel adventures as prizes:

From now through March 8th, 2013 San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is celebrating Scandinavian Airlines’ (SAS) new non-stop service to Copenhagen with a Facebook sweepstakes (and a strange little video starring hamsters). Entrants choose their favorite destination from one of 12 European cities served by SAS and the winner of a random drawing will be awarded two round-trip Economy Class tickets on SAS to the destination they selected. Enter here.

Also through March 8, American Airlines is having a contest with four grand prizes that include a first class trip for two anywhere the airline flies, a year-long Admiral’s Club membership, Five Star Service (“To whisk you through the airport like a star”), a Samsung Tablet, Bose headphones, first-class pajamas, and a $1,000 gift card. Enter here.

And, to welcome the terracotta warriors to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, Cathay Pacific Airways is giving away prizes that include a 10-day China tour and a chance to fly to Xi’an to see the iconic terracotta warriors in their homeland.  Enter here through March 18.

  • Grand Prize: 10 days/9 nights “Cathay Pacific Essence of China” tour, including a pair of roundtrip Economy Class tickets on Cathay Pacific to Beijing, Shanghai and a private sightseeing tour to view the real Terracotta soldiers in Xi’an.
  • 2nd Prize – A one weekend night stay at the Galleria Park hotel in San Francisco, plus pair of VIP tickets to see the Asian Art Museum’s “China’s Terracotta Warriors” exhibition
  • 3rd Prize – An Annual Family Membership at Asian Art Museum plus a copy of the official exhibition souvenir book

Good luck!

Exhibition of souvenirs at San Francisco International Airport

Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel, January 2013?June 2013

Tokens of travel come in all forms: from photos and hotel keys to shells, rocks, postcards and handcrafted or mass-produced souvenirs.

Keep that in mind as you enjoy the new SFO Museum exhibition at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) filled with mementos from the nineteenth century to the present, including sailors’ valentines, world’s fair souvenirs, miniature monuments, transfer ware and ruby-stained glass.

The exhibit fills twenty exhibit case in the north end of the International Terminal and will be on display through July, 2013.

Here are some samples:

Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel, January 2013 -June 2013

Souvenirs: Temple of Vesta c. 1860. Italy; Painting of Mount Vesuvius and Bay of Naples at night, late 1800s; Temple of Castor and Pollux c. 1860, Italy

Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel, January 2013–June 2013

Sailors’ Valentine: Shell mosaic c. 1870. Barbados
Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York

(All photos courtesy of the SFO Museum)

At the SFO Museum: “self-moving mechanical creations”

If you’re very lucky, you’ll end up getting stuck for a while at San Francisco International Airport sometime between now and the end of May 2012.

When you do, rush over to the pre-security departure lobby of the International Terminal Main Hall to see the exhibition of automata and “self-moving” mechanical creations on loan from the Morris Museum in Morristown New Jersey, which houses the incredible Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata.

Here’s a link to a radio piece I produced about the collection for NPR back in the 2005.

Tidbits for travelers

If you’re one of those people who heads straight to the gate once you’re at the airport, then the B4 YOU BOARD smartphone app could come in handy.

The app is free and offers the option of having a meal delivered to you right at the gate. You can also use the app to order something ahead of time and pick it up once you’re at the airport.

The service has already been rolled out at JFK and Minneapolis-St. Paul International airports and, just in time for the holiday travel season, is available at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport where, so far, the Tuscany Café and Chili’s Too! In Terminal 1, Blackhawks Restaurant & Bar in Terminal 2 and Wolfgang Puck Café and Chili’s Too!, in Terminal 3, are participating.

During the busy Thanksgiving travel days, Los Angeles International Airport(LAX) is hoping to create a N.I.C.E. experience and “neutralize irritations customers experience. ” Instead of handing out parking citations or warnings, the officers will hand out information with alternative parking options and coupons for a free cup of coffee.

And, at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), there’s a turkey-themed Twitter and Foursquare contest scheduled for November 21-23. @flySFO will tweet pictures of Pardon the turkey at different locations at the airport and all you have to do is guess where he is. Prizes include an iPad and other goodies. Find more details here.