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How to Surive the Airport Taxi

Urumqi: meter out of service

If there’s one thing that is likely to raise the stress levels of the think-you’ve-seen-it-all-before business traveler it’s the taxi from the airport to the hotel: you arrive jet lagged and icky in a unfamiliar country, having spent an hour+ through the state-sponsors hustle that is customs, visa and immigration – and emerge into the throng that is arrivals.

The lurch of bodies that try to take your bags, whilst offering up their taxi services can be aggressive to the point of an assault – the psychology of selecting the ‘right’ vehicle or at least avoiding the ‘wrong’, of paying multiple times over the odds; of being robbed at gunpoint and dumped by the side of the road sans luggage and wallet (which happened to a friend arriving in Mexico City). When you’re tired and disorientated the mind lets you believe the worst possible outcome.

Hotels have an acute understanding of this equation which is reflected in the way their price the airport pickup – anything from 2 to 20 times the local going rate. If you’re significantly stressed by the whole experience it is money well spent. But for those of you who haven’t thought that far ahead, or would rather take a more affordable option – seven tips to minimise the risk of being ripped off at a new airport:

  • &#187 Call the hotel and work out the cost of a taxi before stepping in the ride
  • &#187 Sitting in the front seat lowers the barrier between driver and passenger and makes it easier to read and project body language
  • &#187 Appear in the know: use your mobile phone or pretend to, communicate with someone local
  • &#187 Be more than just an anonymous passenger: offer up a piece of gum or share a cigarette, talk
  • &#187 Project confidence: regardless of whether you speak Hindi/Russian/Portugese/… speak positively about anything – your body language will communicate more than what is spoken
  • &#187 Don’t accept other passengers in the car
  • &#187 Always pick the driver – never let the driver pick you

If its any consolation – driver’s have a different, but no-less valid set of fears: is this passenger likely to become violent; will they argue about the route; will the custom pay or try to run off; in cultures where tipping is common and the passenger hails from a no-tip culture – will they respect the local tipping norms? In many cultures taxi drivers work exceedingly long hours from intense licensed and unlicensed competition – and when other work opportunities are limited the barriers to market entry are low. Touts also have kids to feed.

Bargain hard, tip well.

And your airport taxi ride experience? What tips would you pass on?