Welcome to Rome: A cautionary tale about Leonardo Da Vinci Airport

The Boscolo Grand Palace Hotel, our home away from home in Rome. We were very happy to finally get there from the airport!
The Boscolo Grand Palace Hotel, our home away from home in Rome. We were very happy to finally get there from the airport!

We had been to Rome twice before, arriving by ship both times.  Just this past fall, we flew into Rome and landed for the first time at Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, its international airport in Fiumicino.

After three wonderful days in London, we had made our way to Gatwick for the short flight to Rome, anticipating our three days there before setting sail for the Greek Islands and Istanbul.  In spite of all the woes of airline travel these days, we were still excited to be making our way to the eternal city.  An hour later in Rome’s airport we were beginning to doubt our modus operandi.  To say that the luggage handling was lengthy would be an understatement, and there was a distinct lack of any customer service for British Airways passengers.  However, after a rather impatient wait, the luggage finally arrived.  We were ready to take on Rome.  Or so we thought.

We made our way out the doors of the international arrivals into a sea of people waving placards announcing the names of their passengers who had pre-booked their taxis.  We often do this, but we’ve had to wait so many times for our taxi drivers – especially at Heathrow – that this time we decided to wing it.  Mistake number one.

As we made our way through the crowd, Patty spied – or was spied by – a man sporting a lanyard which presumably identified him as an official taxi driver.  As throngs of people passed by, he asked us if we were looking for a taxi.  “Yes,” Patty said, immediately after which he grabbed her suitcase from here and propelled his way through the crowd toward the door where the taxis waited in a queue at the curb.

He maneuvered his way past this line to a waiting car just beyond and thrust our suitcases rapidly into the trunk.  He smilingly opened the door and ushered us into the back seat which we obligingly let him do.  Mistake number two.

There was already a man in the front passenger seat.  We wouldn’t mind sharing the cab with his brother, would we?  We actually did mind, but it seemed unfriendly in the face of their clear friendliness to tourists, and he was already there.

There was no visible identification inside the vehicle and no meter.  He began to pull away quickly as Patty asks him, “How much?”

“Just tariff,” he says.

Patty presses him.  “Could you be more precise?”

The driver sighs and pulls out a laminated card from a pocket.  We look at it.  It is this moment where we know without any doubt that we have “been had” as they say: 100 Euros for a trip from the airport didn’t seem right.  After all these years of traveling, we have managed to avoid most of the travel scams and consider ourselves to be quite savvy.  This time we weren’t.  But it wasn’t over yet.

The joys of modern technology meant that we were able to immediately pull out a cell phone and track our route on Google maps so that we could be assured we were actually taking the direct route to our hotel, a tactic we highly recommend in any city you don’t know well.  We followed the dot all along.  The friendly driver and his friendly brother were both aware of our tracking, but were not aware that Art had, in fact, also searched out and discovered that the tariff would be closer to 40 Euros.

We finally arrived at our hotel, the driver pulling up to the curb far enough past the hotel that the bellman didn’t immediately realize we were guests of his establishment.

We were both out of the car quickly, pulling our suitcases from the now-open trunk (which the brother didn’t’ want us to do), before the driver demanded 100 Euros.  Art passed him 40 Euros which resulted in an angry rebuttal about the fare.  At this point, the bellman at the hotel noticed us and immediately came over to assist with our luggage.   As the bellman took our luggage for us, Art asked him what the normal tariff from the airport to this specific point in the city would be.  He indicated that it was between 40 and 50 Euros, so Art pulled out another 10 Euros and gave it to the brother who was still demanding a hundred.  We firmly paid the 50 and followed the bellman and our luggage into the hotel, not looking back. The bellman was appalled at the audacity of his countrymen.

In retrospect, we realized we should have been savvier, but we had been anxious to get away from the throngs at the airport.  We should have lined up for the taxis in the official line and been patient.

On occasion, however, you might find that you don’t have much choice. We recommend that you get the fare sorted out before you put your luggage in the trunk of the car, even if you have to restrain the driver – which we would have had to do.  Then get out your cell phone and track the route (make sure you have a roaming package before you leave home!).  We learned a lesson – we hope you might benefit from it.

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