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Confessions of an Airport Shuttle Driver
Posted by George Hobica on Friday, March 23, 2012
Ever wonder about the person driving you between the airport and your hotel, rental car or other destination? Airfarewatchdog.com did, so we rode around with a driver for a couple of hours and peppered him with questions. You'd think it would be a pretty routine job, but maybe not.
Q. How long have you been doing this?
A. I have been doing this for eighteen years. But not everyone makes this a career. For me, this is a second job in addition to working as a real estate sales person. Others that I know do this as their only job, but they are still in school or never went to college and use this as a job to make money on their minimal educational background.
Q. How much do you get paid?
A. We make a minimum wage salary since we are allowed to earn tips. But it is amazing how many people do not give drivers a tip! True, there are some drivers that I know that make little effort to help travelers with their bags. But there are others who really make an effort to assist travelers. It seems that people think that our services are part of the hotel. While we do less work than the bellman that brings bags to your room, we also have fewer opportunities to assist travelers and rely just as much on tips.
Q. Has this always been your job?
A. No, I had retired, but had to go back to work because my pension got cut. I actually like it though. It keeps me busy, and I get to meet so many interesting people.
Q. Do travelers make conversation with you?
A. Some do. You can kind of tell from the moment they get on... Some of them do not even make eye contact you or even say hello as if we are a machine and do not exist. Others are polite. As drivers, we are used to it though. We know everyone has a story. You may have just come back from a tough meeting where you lost a client. I have even driven people who just got fired. So I get it; no one is ever rude. They may just kind of stare blankly into space. They are tired and want to get to the hotel. I still try to make conversation though. I like to know where they came from, where they are going, you know, their story. Maybe what they need is a little friendly human interaction from a stranger. I see it as a chance to make everyone smile.
Q. Have you ever been in an accident with guests on board?
A. I personally have not, but I know another driver who has. I felt really bad for him. He was at the end of a really tough shift that had him working all night and the early morning airport runs. He rear-ended another driver because he dozed off and ended up losing his job. It can happen to the best of us. I think he was just really tired because he worked two jobs, one during the day and the other driving the shuttle at night.
Q. Is there a type of traveler who is nicer to you than others?
A. It all depends. Families always appreciate when we help them with their gear since their hands are full. Airline crew are pretty good about it too; most of them tip us, which is funny since they sometimes get a reputation among us drivers for being cheap. We see a lot of them repeatedly so we become friends. Heck, we see a lot of business travelers over and over again too. Seeing the same people over again gives us a sense of camaraderie that is unusual in this job.
Q. Do you only do airport runs?
A. Mostly, but sometimes we take passengers to restaurants or shops within a two-mile vicinity of the hotel. Often, the same traveler who decided not to tip from the airport depends on me to pick up their drunk self from the bar down the street. We see some interesting stuff from people falling asleep on the bus to crew members that may have partied a bit too hard. We do remember faces! But 95% of my trips are to and from the airport.
Q. Why are people allowed to stand on your bus when the rule in this state is that people must be wearing a seatbelt?
A. Technically, for their wellbeing, they should not be standing, but we are classified like a bus so they are permitted to stand as long as they remain behind the yellow line. But I have had many a traveler fall down or topple onto another passenger. I have brought this up numerous times with my manager at the hotel, but they simply shrug saying they know the safety hazards but people just want to get to the hotel fast. And they are right. If the county allows it, then so do we.
Q. Why are there so many older shuttle drivers?
A. Two reasons. Some of us have to do it because we need the money. Our pensions are gone or we made some financial mistakes. Others do it because they like the constant interaction and variety it provides with people. This job is probably the best in terms of variety in that we see different people every few minutes and can engage with them. Few jobs for people our age do that.
Q. Why do some shuttle drivers assist with luggage and others do not?
A. Plain and simple: They are lazy. They are probably too tired or have been burned too many times by cheap travelers who do not bother to shell out a buck. Other times, if there is just one person on the curb who looks ready to hop on, it makes no sense to unbuckle your seatbelt and hop out. By the time you are at the steps to greet them, they are already firmly in their seat. We are here to offer a service. Some people use it, and some people do not. Like bellmen at the hotel, we are totally okay with that. Although a kind word always goes a long way.
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