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Airport taxi drivers are not all rogues – but neither are they all angels

“Thieves the world over,” said my Bosnian pal, Semir. I had just told him of my four-minute, £13 journey from Sarajevo airport in an airport taxi.

I had touched down from Luton and was heading for the Tunnel Museum. This sombre memorial to the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo is on the opposite side of the runway from the terminal. The man in the airport information booth insisted: “It’s too far to walk. There is no bus. You must take a taxi.”

Local advice should be respected, I usually find. So I wandered out and took the taxi at the head of the queue. At such moments it is generally wise to enquire, “How much will it cost?” But such a question carries with it a faint but inevitable implication of mistrust. Knowing that Bosnia is a low-cost country, I left it unasked, even when I noted the absence of a meter.

Four minutes later, the driver demanded 30 KM (“convertible marks”, worth £13).

How much? In such a dispute, though, the driver always has the upper hand. I asked for a receipt, which I later showed to Semir.

“He’s charged you extra for luggage,” my friend laughed when he read it. My single piece of cabin baggage was so modest that Wizz Air had not charged me extra for luggage. That was when Semir made his sweeping generalisation about airport taxi drivers.

Normally I use public transport from airports. On the rare occasions I take taxis, most drivers are friendly and reasonable value. Naturally, I remember most strongly the pockets of extortion: US$20 (£16) between the terminals at Jeddah airport; €40 (£35) for 10-minute rides from Venice and Catania airports in Italy.

When I posted my Bosnian experience on social media, it became clear within minutes I was not alone. Among a litany of rip-offs involving “credit card machines not working” and circuitous routes to the destination, some locations appeared repeatedly in fellow travellers’ responses.

At Istanbul airport, says Charles Bristow: “I was absolutely done there. I consider myself worldly wise, but they schooled me.” Even when you are in the city, writes Anne Abrahams, “Istanbul taxis are a rip-off, don’t use the meter, and try to negotiate absurd fares. Uber is available.”

Italy features heavily: Michael Brooks says that from Naples airport he was “absolutely fleeced” and had his baggage held hostage before he paid up. Lear reports an experience in Rome: “Dropped off nowhere near hotel and money stolen! Hotel staff were horrified & always arranged taxis who were excellent.”

The airports at Portugal’s two biggest cities also linger in travellers’ memories. Lulabelle says: “I got charged €60 [£52] from Lisbon airport into town.” Even in heavy traffic it should be less than half. “Mr Ranty” says he was “stitched up for a 10-minute drive from Porto airport”. “Don’t use taxi drivers who are loitering by arrivals,” he recommends.

Aoin Douglas says: “Within the grounds of Marrakech airport it is impossible to get a ride into the Medina or new city (both five minutes away) for less than £30. If you walk a quarter of a mile to the roundabout at the airport entrance you can get a cab for £3.”

Taxi drivers who wait patiently to reach the head of the airport queue only to be asked for a nearby and unrewarding location can also take their revenge. Davie recounts his first arrival at Madrid airport, late at night, when there were many taxis and few customers. The driver took 15 minutes to reach his hotel and charged €30 (£26) for the privilege. Next morning, Davie discovered: “Our hotel was literally a 15-minute walk from the airport.”

Many travellers responded positively about airports where you pre-pay for the journey, or where prices to destinations are fixed and clearly marked. Those fixed prices, though, can be high by the time the airport has taken its cut. I arrived at Bristol airport after a flight from Glasgow to find the (also expensive) buses in disarray. The 20-minute journey into the city centre was priced at £40. Fortunately it did not take long to recruit three fellow arrivals to share the journey and reduce the fare to a more reasonable £10. “Cycling Womble 81” observes of the west of England hub: “It’s a captive market and they’re taking the proverbial.”

Taxis from railway stations can also prove tricky. Stephen Bailey says that taxis from Warsaw airports are well run, as are those within the city. But, he says: “Warsaw Central Station is basically managed by crooks. I speak the language but have kept quiet until they tell me the price. That’s surprised them.”

Talking of crooks, Mark Campbell reports an encounter at Mumbai airport. “The driver and his mafia mate tried to charge me an extra £15 from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. They even threatened to drop me in the middle of nowhere if I didn’t pay.” In the end, he negotiated the extra down to £5 and paid up “to avoid missing my flight”.

Threats are inexcusable; but theatre may earn forgiveness, as it did for Lee Ruscoe in San Jose, Costa Rica. New arrivals who ask to be taken to a bus terminal are evidently given an elaborate performance centring on the premise of an imminent four-day strike by bus workers.

Lee’s driver went to the extreme of asking him to hold up a directory of phone numbers. The driver pretended to call the bus station and ask the staff to hold the departure for Lee. “He seemed to be a hero, except he wanted £25 for a £2.50 ride. Weeks later I was still searching for any signs of bus and transport strikes. He got a smile, and a fiver out of me for his creative story and believable acting.”

Last word to Robert Boyle, who advises: “Beware the phrase ‘Is this your first time in…’ Always answer, ‘No’.”

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

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