I wanted to book a car to pick me up from Heathrow early in the morning, and I found one company that seemed ideal. They own several domain names (most of which are for sale), but all point to http://www.proteus.demon.co.uk (oh, and their form for bookings doesn't work properly). This is what the website says: **** We recommend that you telephone us before your flight departs for the UK, with the flight number, your name, where you have departed from, your arrival airport and estimated time of arrival. Our driver will then meet you at the arrivals gate, and take you to your final destination. All of our drivers will be wearing a photo ID badge, and will be carrying a placard with INTERNET AIRPORT SERVICES on it, your name and your flight details. Our driver will Arrive at the airport at about the same time that your flight arrives, you will generally take between 20-50 minutes to clear immigration and customs. When we are due to meet a flight, we always telephone ahead to the airport to find out if your flight is going to be early, late or on-time. This way our driver will always be there to meet you. **** The reality is rather different. My plane arrived about 20-25 minutes earlier than scheduled, and we were through customs at 6 a.m. (about 5 minutes after the scheduled arrival time). No sign of the driver when we went to the meeting point, and when I called up he was still on his way and arrived shortly after 7 p.m. As I had my wife and our 3 year old son with me, and we had been in the air for 13 hours, the long wait was not a happy experience. Worse, we got were stuck in heavy traffic and only just arrived a few minutes before my brother had to leave for work. The driver seemed unapologetic, and claimed that he had checked with the airline before he went to sleep and that the plane was on time - obviously he felt that it wasn't his fault. This seems fairly pathetic - in
my experience, planes often pick up time during the journey, and so you would need to check again a couple of hours before the scheduled arrival time (as is implied on their website). You also need to be aware of the normal clearance time at different times of the day (it may vary by airline, I don't know). If you are specialising in airport pickups then this ought to be part of your service! Once we finally arrived, I expected the driver to be more understanding about the inconvenience he had caused to us, but when I offered him ₤30.00 in view of the sub-standard service he commented that I obviously needed the money more than he did. Not a very sensible thing to say, I thought - I would cheerfully have paid the full published fare plus a tip if the driver had turned up on time. On our return journey (using a company picked at random from the Yellow Pages), the driver arrived 15 minutes early and got us to the airport in plenty of time, so I paid him the ₤35.00 fare plus a ₤5.00 tip. When I complained to the company about my experience, I received an abusive email from them **** "We plan our journeys around the SCHEDULED arrival time of the flights, we cannot possibly foresee when a flight is going to be early or late, and we rely on the information supplied to us at http://www.baa.co.uk. I also note that the SCHEDULED arrival time for your flight was 06:00, and I also note that the driver arrived at 07:00. Which as stated above is 45-60 Minutes after your SCHEDULED arrival time. As for underpaying the driver, well all i can say is you were damn lucky i wasn't the driver that day, because if had have been, believe me I would have had no scruples about calling the police and having you charged with attempted fare evasion. Sometimes i really wonder why I waste my time sending out confirmations, because you obviously cant seem to read." **
* Clearly contradicting himself and what it says on his website!! *** A couple of weeks later, and these clowns have revamped their website. A few interesting developments: 1. They have increased their price from ₤35 to ₤40. They also make much of the fact that they are a licensed private hire operator and that some people get "ripped off" by taxi firms. Yes they do, but you can book a licensed mini-cab to or from the airport for less than ₤40 - depending upon the distance, but typically no more than ₤30 - ₤35. 2. They have removed some of the inconsistencies and more extravagant claims from the website, but it's still hysterical in places. In my experience, any reputable cab company will meet you at the airport when you land and the fact remains that this shower didn't! 3. They admit that no-one is in the office except during normal office hours (because they are an Internet-based company). This is pretty useless when you arrive early in the morning, and in my experience they don't always answer emails promptly and I had great difficulty with their booking form. To me, this has the look of a "one man and his dog" operation - it's easy to appear large and impressive on the Internet. They don't, but a casual observer might be fooled (and they do appear near the top of the list if you do a search in Google!). 4. Best of all, the guy who sent me an abusive email appears to be the owner!