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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

Avoiding Airport to City Rip-offs

The Citroën 2CV taxis are everywhere in Antananarivo, Madagascar. They’ve got to be my favourite taxis, to try once. Not for comfort or long trips, though.

Somehow is seems that ‘bad apples’ are overrepresented among taxi drivers based in airports. How can you avoid being ripped off by them when going downtown from the airport?

I visited some 60 countries last year and cannot afford being ripped off every single time. Below are ten little tips that could prove useful on your next trip. I have learned my lesson the hard way by taking taxis in way too many countries on six continents. I will most likely be ripped off again in the future, but hopefully in new and creative new ways.

1. Get accurate information on what a taxi ride from your particular airport should cost. Wikivoyage and other travel websites can usually give you a reasonably fair idea. To in advance ask your hotel, friends, Twitter contacts or relatives based in your destination is another good way. It is important to find relatively updated info. You may also ask at the airport or tourist information desk, but sometimes at least one taxi driver will linger around you while you ask, something that puts pressure on the information staff to indicate a higher price than what you ought to pay. If you suggest a way too low price, any taxi driver will laugh in your face. This happened to me in Eritrea. I later realized that my cost figures were from 2007. Being in a stubborn mood, I ended up walking the 6 kilometers to town only to discovered my research error in the next Wi-Fi spot.

2. Check the map before you go. Leaving this until after arrival may cost you a lot more than your taxi ride in phone roaming charges. That is, if you are even able to get a data connection. There may also be an internet cafe in the airport or even free Wi-Fi, but don’t count on it. It will anyhow slow your journey down. You want to find out how far the airport is from town, where your hotel or meeting place is and which route that seems like the best to travel.

3. Track the driver. If you have a smartphone with a built-in GPS (or a standalone navigation device), do download the map of the city in advance (so that it is stored on your phone) and follow the route you are being driven. This will not cost anything as long as you remember to switch off the data traffic roaming option on your phone. Yet, it will show you where the driver is taking you and whether it makes sense to go this particular route.

4. Do agree on a price in advance. In some countries, the drivers will still insist on using the meter. In such cases I usually get a second opinion from another driver. Meters are easy to manipulate and speed up. If yours run suspiciously fast ask the driver to stop and find another taxi, alternatively continue to your destination and pay only what is fair. When he (it’s usually a he) gets upset, call the police or just leave. In some countries, meters are well controlled or regularly monitored by the authorities. In such cases you should be safe, although it will still often benefit you to agree on a price in advance. In Oslo, for instance, running the meter may cost you 1500-2000 NOK, while agreeing to their special airport fare will set you back “only” 890 NOK.

5. Double check that there are no “hidden” costs. Some drivers will add a price per piece of luggage upon arriving your destination, even though you have agreed on a price in advance. Others will add an extra fee for every additional passenger, let you pay extra as it’s late, early, Easter or whichever other creative reason they can come up with.

6. Do not be afraid to leave one taxi driver to ask for a second opinion or to ride with someone else than you first intended. You may for instance not like the driver’s attitude, the standard of the car or the smell of smoke inside. You are paying for a service and you are entitled to choose your service provider. Exercise this right even if the driver will do anything to make you feel bad about doing so. To mention the family back home or even threaten that you will have to pay a penalty for wasting his time are well known methods.

7. Order a taxi before flying. You will then be picked up by someone with your name on a sign. This will give your arrival a VIP feel to it. Do certainly do this if travelling with that someone special that you may want to impress. Do still follow the points above when picking a taxi company and agreeing on a price. Some hotels also offer such services.

8. Talk to fellow passengers on your plane or while waiting for your bags. Ask them to organize a taxi for you. Most people will be happy to do this, and you will avoid most pitfalls. They know what they should pay and which companies to use. You don’t.

9. In any case, use only licensed companies and do avoid the sharks lingering outside the arrival zone.

10. If the taxi driver tries to fool you or takes you on a detour which you notifies him that you have noticed, his knowledge of English (or whichever other language you seemed to share before the journey started) will mysteriously disappear. If this happens, don’t pay but go to your hotel, friend or colleague and complain. They can support you and help translate. Realising that you have local contacts will usually calm the driver down and usually end up in your favour.

Are there even alternatives?

Still not happy? Go for public transport. There are such options at most airports, although sometimes not at night. Some airports are also so close to town that you can walk. You may however not know this unless you have checked the map in advance. Examples of such airports are Florø (FRO) in Norway, Las Vegas McCarran International (LAS) in the US, E.T. Joshua (SVD) in St. Vincent, George F. L. Charles Airport (SLU) in St. Lucia, Eilat (ETH) in Israel. Do expect some weird looks though. Except for to or from the latter which may be the most central airport in the world.

Getting a taxi to the airport is normally much easier. You will normally already have experiences with the city, you have met people and you can always ask a local to order the taxi for you.

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