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  • Writer's pictureDavid Natale

Ditch the Pre-booked Transfers ... at least for now!

Pre-Covid many of my guests would ask me to pre-arrange airport arrival greetings and transfers. They enjoyed having a driver waiting on them with their name on a sign, being helped with their bags and escorted to an elegant waiting car which would whisk them off to their hotel / no worries about payment, getting lost, being taken for a "little side tour" on the way to the airport etc.

While it is still possible to make that happen the reliability of these airport transfers has radically changed and the cost as well.

Lack of drivers, lack of customer service support, lagging communications and most of all, the chaos in the air industry has led to situations where several of my clients showed up to their meeting point looking for their driver only to be frustrated, left behind, and having to pay for a taxi and the missed transfer.

Why is this happening and how to work around it if you really, really want that waiting driver?

The majority of transfers are booked thru a central booking agency who then assign each ride to various local vendors. You might not have noticed before, but these bookings have always had a "no cancellation" after 24-hour rule and by and large, it rarely came into effect because the infrastructure to let a driver know about a flight change or delay was much better.

The transfer service and the vendors were in better communication and they were mostly willing to adjust a booking to a new pick-up time rather than insist on the original pick-up time. When guests experienced a flight change or delay they'd call the emergency number and the adjustment made with no problem.

What is now happening is that key communications and contacts have disappeared. New drivers, new call center people, and reduced office hours result in that important connection of communication being lost so that even if a flight change reaches the central booking agency, the change is not reaching the driver who shows up at the originally booked time and place.

Once there, they insist on being paid as they followed their original booking.

Generally, if it is a simple flight delay of the original flight number that they have in a booking a driver will monitor that flight # and make an adjustment (as per the contract). However, since airlines are changing flight #s and other important identifiers at a dizzying pace, customers find themselves being left behind and unable to get their money back.

As an agent, I see both sides and have two suggestions on how to make arrivals in a strange place smoother.

Use a service that allows changes up until 1 hour before the ride, but expect to pay more. For example, I use Blacklane for those guests who really, really want to be met. Since Blacklane allows a change (or cancellation) until 1 hour before pick-up, you are offered better protection for those last-minute flight changes.

Yet even here, you have to have a strategy. Blacklane rates get higher the closer in to the date of travel so even if you get delayed and try to make a change, their already high price can really shoot up. The game here is to simply cancel the transfer once you know you are delayed and then take a local taxi upon arrival. Trying to change the pick-up time can result in far higher fees than the original booking.

The pro here is that you can at least get your money back very easily (over their app or thru me) and you don't have that irritating feeling of being ripped off for having paid for something you did not receive.

That is so annoying.

The other solution is to accept that a pre-booked transfer is a gamble and simply plan to take an official taxi from the airport taxi stand once you arrive, get your bags, go thru customs, etc.

Why add more worry to an already stressful travel day?

I know what you are going to say... "but Dave, what if I don't have local currency or if i get a driver that takes me on a long route and rips me off??"

Well, those days are mostly over thanks to cell phones (did you read my last blog about this?).

The prevalence of Google Maps, Apple Pay and Android phone payment functions allows you to both monitor your route (or at least the driver will assume you are), you can usually see the driver's navi, and using your cell phone's payment option takes away the need to have local currency to pay.

Simply ask the driver before getting into the taxi if he takes cards / 99 out of 100 drivers now do. If you get the rare driver that does not, you simply ask for a different driver. This is NO problem at any official taxi stand anywhere in the world.

Whereas pre-booked transfers have now become a transport risk, taxis have become more and more secure. Knowing that before you go is half the battle.

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