Traffic > Transit

Taxi scams are alive and well at NAIA, sadly

It may not look like it, but travelers still need to stay vigilant

These posters are here to remind passengers for a specific reason. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Old habits die hard, it seems—at least where scams outside Metro Manila’s main airport are concerned. Among the many hardworking and honest cab drivers are some bad eggs ready to rip unsuspecting arrivals off.

We found that out firsthand while arriving in the city recently. Here’s how it went.

Following an epic 30-hour, two-day, three-flight trip from Europe to Manila, we stepped out of Terminal 3 near midnight last Monday, and decided to line up for a white taxi at the official rank. It didn’t take long for the usual “Taxi? Taxi?” figures to emerge from the shadows and sneak around the queue like lions sizing up their prey. Naturally, we just ignored them and waited for our turn at the front of the long line of waiting passengers.

When we had almost reached the rank itself, one especially crafty driver approached us (presumably picking us out as easy marks, seeing as I look like your average European or American tourist), and we of course immediately challenged if he was a proper coupon taxi operator.

In response, he put on his best confidence act, waved around a sort of name badge around his neck, and bamboozled us into following him.

An enterprising individual's act can be quite convincing, especially to weary travelers who want to get to their destination. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Here, it’s worth pointing out that my wife and I had been around the block a few times, and immediately caught on to him. But his act was a good one.

Instead of leading us to some car park away from prying eyes, this guy had the balls to park his car just to the left of the head of the line of taxis waiting there, thereby making it look like he was an official driver and it was simply his turn to load up passengers.

In reality, he probably just pulled up there, quickly looked for some victims, and made his getaway before anyone really caught on to him. For a moment I thought about pulling our suitcases out of his hands and turning around, but then the journalist in me took over. If he was really ripping us off, it would be an instant story.

The author was extremely lucky that nothing bad happened to him (and his wife) during this trip. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Looking back at it now, we probably dodged a bullet there, as it wasn’t only the cab driver in the vehicle, but also an unknown second male, apparently some sort of “captain” from the airport. In reality, he was very likely just an accomplice, and he was sitting in the front passenger seat. I don’t have to tell you how many taxi stories start like this, and often end rather badly for the passengers.

Take a look at these prices. Even rides from Grab during peak hours don't cost as much. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

No sooner had we set off that first we noticed the old classic trick of hiding the meter under a small towel, and when inquiring about the fare, we were handed a laminated and mighty official-looking list of prices. We took pictures of it, and as it seemed a little on the high side (judge the “per-passenger prices” for yourself from the images).

We were going to Mandaluyong, so the fare for the two of us, according to this chart, would have been P3,000, and also said “Metered Fares” when the meter was off. We knew the con was on.

First impressions are crucial for any destination, and safe transport options from the airport are simply a must. To still see so many scammers looking for victims is worrying

Look for signs like a covered meter and/or contact info, and an unknown 'passenger' accompanying you on the trip. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

To try and give the driver and his assumed accomplice a chance to come clean, I outed myself as a motoring writer, and we made it clear that we knew what he was up to. The two also realized that we had taken pictures and video.

Once at our destination, he requested the amount on his rate card, but we refused and offered him P1,000, which was still too high but seemed like a good way to bring this trip to a close without drama.

Even with ride-hailing apps, there should be more awareness surrounding this situation, especially for tourists who are clueless PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Did the driver try to rip us off? Certainly. Did we potentially dodge getting robbed? Possibly. Is there a need to do more to stamp out this behavior at the nation’s biggest airport? Definitely.

First impressions are crucial for any destination, and safe transport options from the airport are simply a must. To still see so many scammers looking for victims is worrying, and we hope the authorities can do more to make tourists and residents arriving in the country feel safer when it comes to this, while at the same time ensuring that honest drivers can make a fair living and are not impacted negatively by bad actors in their ranks.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.