We Got Stalked By A Taxi Driver: Baku Edition

A few months ago I wrote a post about why I think it’s worth the money to be picked up from the airport in a hotel car, at least when you’re in a foreign country with pushy taxi drivers. The way I see it:

  • While I love Uber, in some countries it can be complicated to coordinate where to meet with your Uber driver at the airport; I’ll almost always take an Uber from the hotel to the airport, but less often do so in the other direction
  • Using a hotel car minimizes the frustration that I usually associate with taxis, like getting scammed, having an unsafe driver or car, etc.
  • Using a hotel car lets the hotel better anticipate your arrival, meaning they’ll often meet you at the car on arrival, have your room ready if you’re checking in early, etc.

I’ve had so many bad taxi experiences, ranging from drivers nearly falling asleep on me, to drivers getting lost (even in a city with supposedly the most competent cabbies), to drivers claiming I damaged their car, to drivers refusing to take me to my desired destination, to drivers taking me the long way, to drivers getting in accidents. It seems that more often than not getting from the airport to the hotel is an adventure.

Well, for whatever reason I forgot to arrange a hotel car for our arrival in Baku yesterday. I was busy and forgot to do so, and momentarily forgot how much I hate taxis. On landing I tried to be optimistic and thought to myself “how bad can it be?”

Well, pretty bad…

Our Baku taxi experience

Upon arrival at Baku Airport yesterday we exited the immigration hall. We wanted to use the restroom before getting in a taxi, so followed the signage towards the restrooms, which required going up an escalator. As we went up the escalator I told Tiffany we were being followed by a guy, and she thought I was being paranoid.

baku-airport

He was being shady, and was clearly watching us. When we got to the top of the escalator I suggested we just wait for a minute near a coffeeshop. I made eye contact with him (in a “bugger off” kind of way), and he walked the other way briefly.

We used the restroom and then headed back down the escalator. Who was behind us on the escalator again? The same guy.

This time he approached us “taxi? Where do you need to go?”

“No.”

“Taxi, where to?”

“No.”

He proceeded to follow us outside, and over the course of the walk insisted a dozen times on driving us. Eventually I raised my voice and said “no” in a more authoritative way. He didn’t back off.

There was a police officer outside so I asked him where the taxi queue was. He explained that there wasn’t a queue, but rather there are just taxis parked all around, and you can take any of them. At this point the shady character who had been following us took out his license. I wasn’t sure if it was actually real, as I didn’t see an ID number of any sort on it. The police officer seemed to suggest the guy was okay, and the creep took that to assume we were driving with him.

He then tried to take Tiffany’s bags. She said no. He insisted, and she had to raise her voice to get him to stop, and said “no, stop.” He wouldn’t back off, and only after she said it louder did he back off. Then he tried to take my bags, and I did the same.

At this point his car was parked near where we were, and he signaled for us to get in. It wasn’t a taxi, but rather just a beat up old car.

We then got in an actual taxi nearby (many taxis in Baku are the same as London black cabs, which is pretty awesome), and he continued to chase us there. He then started yelling at our driver, I assume because he thought the guy was stealing “his” customers. The taxi driver we were with drove off fast while the creep still had his hands on the driver’s door, as he wouldn’t back off. He kept yelling as we drove off.

Bottom line

While I order hotel cars almost every time I visit a new country, sometimes I forget. Somehow even those few isolated incidents are typically disasters. I don’t think the guy necessarily had bad intentions (in other words, I don’t think he was trying to kill us), but I’d rather take an actual taxi of my choice, and certainly don’t want to give in to someone as aggressive as this guy.

Why do some people have to be so ridiculous?

Comments

  1. I think it is unfair to blame taxi drivers for this. I have had all sorts of people engage in this kind of behavior with me in many contexts. Blame the airport authorities instead, for being so useless.

  2. What reason did the security person gave you not to offer escorting you to a reputable transport outfit?

  3. If you felt this guy was stalking you and got concerned, you should take a taxi by waiving on the streets of either Bangkok or Jakarta. Thrn you would get an idea of what a “real scary experience” is.

  4. Even I had a prepaid taxi from TLV BEN Gurion Airport to TLV city and there was several security pax and there was several announcement “do not taxi an aut taxi” 4-5 so called taxi drivers try to offer me ..if I keep telling them I was not interested.
    This happen all the times more or less in most airport- bye the way ben,
    how long time did it take for you to pass IMM in Baku and did you have a visa ? (German Passport)

  5. Isn’t there any information at the airport information desk, or on-line for the airport website, where taxis are? You kids must have looked like real first-time foreigners in…..ah….Azerbaijan.

    For Bangkok when Don Muaung was the International hub, the adage was first time arrivals will get stiffed one way or another, but the cost will help you learn from it. After that, you’re a known because you know what to do…..and you figure it out by looking up the information; i.e., the Airport Bus, finding the correct taxi line, taking the SkyTrain to the last stop and then get a taxi from there to the airport, knowing how to react to someone offering you a taxi, etc.

    Doesn’t “no” mean “help me” in Azerbaijani? I think so.

  6. This pampered millennial has no idea what being “stalked” means. Christ how can you be this out of touch with reality.

  7. It’s normal in east. I don’t see any point to blame that taxi driver. I think you all american are so spoiled and have never been raised in real life. How many times did you order taxi from your hotel because you were afraid of being cheated or “stalked” hahahah? Pathetic!. I am older than you and Im Swiss and I saw much more you young guy. In your all posts you are fascinating of everything even it is a s*t hole. Be more objective in this what are you writing to your followers!

  8. Not the taxi driver’s fault….the guy following you is not related to the taxi driver at all. He would likely have followed you even if you Ubered or used a hotel car.

  9. Not sure what it is about me, whether good or bad, but I rarely get hassled by people. Probably a mix of attitude and physical. I’m a tall male who walks fast and packs everything in a carry-on backpack (so he wouldn’t have been able to grab my bag). At the same time I tend to not engage in people who hassle me. I find not making eye contact and simply ignoring them beyond a simple no (I don’t talk to people just shouting at everyone walking by) works well.

  10. I just returned from a vacation trip to Taiwan and Japan. This post reminds me of one of the many reasons I enjoyed it so much. This type of thing is one of those travel hassles that happen in so much of the world but would never happen in those countries.

  11. It would have been an even more interesting story if you had gone with him, and let him put your luggage in the trunk. Especially when you got to the hotel and he demanded $500 for the fare, and wouldn’t open the trunk to retrieve the luggage until you paid him the ransom. Especially when it turned out the hotel desk people are being bribed by him, and wouldn’t do anything to help. 😉

    A few years back the mayor of Prague, after hearing these stories all these years, decided to do his own investigation. He pretended to be a clueless foreign tourist, and picked a cab at random at the airport for a ride downtown. He found out all of those stories are true when the “cabbie” tried to charge him $300. 😉

  12. I completely understand Lucky’s taxi dilemma. Try taking a taxi at MNL without getting ripped off. 98% of the people working there, taxi driver or not–are scammers/criminals.

    If you have the money and can afford it, would definitely go the hotel limousine service route.

  13. How does this correlate that taxis are bad? He would’ve bothered you either way in the airport.

    It’s called travel- interacting with locals. Yes there’s bad cabbies but I’ve also had great ones who I then hire for a day trip at significantly cheaper rates than what the hotel would charge. The more you share the non trip report side of your travel, the more I realize you live in a bubble.

  14. @David — Right? It is as if he is a first-time traveler. I mean, I guess he rarely steps off a plane. But if you had any doubts about how sheltered Lucky is, they are cleared up now. I can’t believe he felt compelled to write a blog post about this!

  15. @Andrew: a big +1

    For me, Ben’s & Tif’s experience falls under the “business as usual” category. I’ve become accustomed to such hassles & am rarely even conscious of them anymore.

    @Jorunna Nudibranch –

    That was too funny.

  16. I hope you are staying at the Four Seasons! The old town is very close and a lot of lovely local restaurants are there. Baku is a very pleasant city; do check out the flame towers and other sights

  17. @Santastico
    Not as long as you call a blue bird, the one reputable taxi company. Uber is getting better here, but their drivers often don’t have a car mount and try to look for the way themselves, and quite a few have gotten lost. Blue bird drivers are almost always knowledgeable and pleasant to deal with.

  18. @Sara, @David, @Florian

    Let’s make a mental experiment. What would you do in such a situation? I would either punch the guy following me, or stayed with the police officer. Afterwards, just took a taxi. Which is almost exactly what Ben and Tiffany did. Judging by your replies you would gladly get into the car with this guy. Either you’re jealous or are crazy social justice warriors blaming young, white people for having a nice lifestyle. Also
    – how is that experience out of touch with reality? I almost always use hotel cars…and one can hardly call me pampered.

  19. @ Andrew @ Imperator — Good point, and I actually think he targeted us because we were together, versus looking like individual (and independent) travelers.

  20. Shame you had to endure such an experience. Usually a firm NO and the pushy taxi drivers will stop bothering you.

    One of the worst experiences I had was on my arrival in Madagascar – although it does not come close to what you experienced. After arrival and when exiting the airport (this was back in 2002), luggage is screened again (like it is in Tehran). Immediately after the luggage goes through, the airport security staff allowed a taxi driver to take our luggage. We had to chase the driver to his taxi to get our luggage back!

    Loved your photo from the interior of Baku airport. I was there in September and the airport is on the pretty side. Hope you are enjoying Baku. See the Flame Towers change colors at night – you can get a great view of the Towers from the top of Maiden Tower in the old walled city. Enjoy.

  21. This is the downside of the white previlege. Most people treat you better just because you are white but many people also think you are loaded and think your money is theirs that your white forefathers had stolen from them. So there you have it.

  22. Just sounds like someone desperate for some passenger. Pretty common occurrence in developing countries.

  23. Lol, David, James, and Sara Björn
    You guys are mental.
    Somehow you guys are blaming a victim of hassle instead of blaming the actual perpetrator? So for you guys, when you go to a foreign country, an aggressive hustler who stalks you is OK? I’m a bodybuilder who can intimidate physically by mere presence, and let’s see how you would feel when I stalk you for a “taxi ride.”
    BTW it looks like English isn’t your first language. Look up what “stalking” means in an ENGLISH DICTIONARY. Lucky used the term properly.
    For God’s sake, a shady guy aggressively hustles a tourist, and somehow the tourist is “entitled” “living in a bubble.”
    Guess what. If these are the only comments that you can make, just don’t come to this blog and get a life.

  24. One of my rules of travel is that the further you encounter a taxi driver from his car, the more likely he will try to scam you. I will almost never deal with anyone INSIDE an airport terminal who offers me a taxi. Legitimate/honest taxi drivers are more likely to wait outside in their cars or by their cars. Drivers who park their cars and then hunt the arrivals terminal for white customers are up to no good.

  25. @W: Agree that both Silver and Blue Birds are good service in Jakarta. But I said said “waive for a taxi on the streets of Jakarta”. Thus, that won’t probably be one of the “birds” so expect a real experience. 🙂

  26. I had the EXACT same experience in Baku a few years back. A taxi driver picked me and wouldn’t leave me alone.

    I went over to the tourist information desk (this was in the old airport terminal) and asked about taxis and the approximate cost. The taxi driver shouted from behind me at the info desk woman in Azeri and then she said in English she isn’t sure of the price, I should “ask the taxi driver” right there. I walked outside and there weren’t any other taxis in sight, and all the other lingering drivers were avoiding me now that I had been claimed. I had an average ride into the city center — and then a rainy night (which never happens there) and was convinced this trip would be a mess.

    The next day I woke up and fell in love with Baku while exploring the coast and old city — what a cool place. Be sure to try the Plov

  27. For a person who travels so much, I am surprised you engaged. Put on a resting bitch face, and don’t even say no, just brush off with hand. Works worldwide. You may seem like an ass, but it works.

    My number one peeve is seeing a clueless American somewhere abroad actually answering the question in a market “what country are you from?” Eyes forward, don’t engage. No problems.

  28. @Daniel-

    I love how you drop that you are a bodybuilder. Who cares.

    I’ve been to Baku and can speak to it. Have you?

  29. @Santastico: Tip is not to call them from far away, since you can see the big “Blue Bird Group” sticker on top of the windshield..

  30. Lol
    You can’t imagine how bad was Baku airport 15 years ago.
    Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE – security guys (3 stages), customs guys, immigration guys were pretty much demanding bribes on your way in and out of the airport. Current Taxi situation is just minor eastern European nuisance

  31. As much as I love travel, going to places where the risk of being ripped off in a big way is omnipresent takes the fun away. There are a lot of poor countries where people don’t rip you off constantly while I have been to middle income or rich countries where being ripped off is very common. I don’t mind it when it is a playful haggling process but when you feel intimidated it is kind of frustrating.

    I think such experiences say something about the country and the attitude of people and that should be part of the take-away from the experience. I dont care how beautiful the country is if the people are just awful and have no sense of fair play.

    PS – I love being a person of colour as people generally assume I have no money which is fabulous as a tourist 😛

  32. I used to work for a 5star Hotel in London and when I booked a taxi from the hotel to LHR 0r the other way aroundI got £20 commission from the taxi driver. PS: It works that in all hotels all around the world

  33. I am a heavy international traveler and agree one should usually book hotel car in most countries — especially 3rd world countries. One thing to check in advance is that car will not wait around for other arrivals. Some do.

  34. I was with my husband and daughter in Buenos Aires and our taxi driver stopped along a medium on a busy street so he could pee. And then in Hanoi, my driver didn’t show up, and a man asked me if I needed a taxi. I said no. He took my bag and practically ran ahead of me, going up a ramp to the next level. He put my bag in a car, got in with the driver, and got out after we left the airport boundary so he could head back to find more people. And THEN, the very next day I got in a taxi that was not from a hotel, and he locked me in and wouldn’t let me out because he wanted 60 US for a 2$ fare. I finally negotiated for $15, and as I ran away I called him a very bad name. He acted very offended by my language.

  35. Having a guy follow you around the airport and then try to take your bags even after you tell him no is not being entitled or sheltered. Its call not being a sucker or worse not ending up with body parts dismembered. It’s also why we prefer to live in a more civilized world. If you prefer that kind of hassle be my guess but since his audience lives in a civilized world it is how most of us would react.

  36. Ben. Have you ever thought of using actual car services? There are many national wide ones. I’ve used most of them but typically use Carey International or Empire CLS. I call a central reservations office, give them my flight details and professional car and driver are always there for me. Definitely more expensive than Uber, but I would assume a little less then a hotel car.

  37. I think it is pretty universal that when a person forcefully grabs your bag, blocks your path, physically handles you or intimidates and harasses, it’s out of bounds. I have no problem pushing an overly aggressive person out of my way or even kicking a street urchin grabbing at my legs. Clearly you must be aware of your surroundings. I’ve ditched thieving cab drivers without pay, even in NYC, defying them to call the police.

    I usually only succumb to intimidation in a dark ally, the wrong hood, a thug with a gun or in front of corrupt police. Just because they are poorer than you or from another culture does not extend to them an innate right to intimidate or steal. I also agree with the poster who said never hire a taxi driver who approaches you in an airport terminal. I always go to the taxi line or dispatch desk.

  38. I agree with “Dare.” Just ignore these people. I am old (67), not tall, and not angry. I’ve taken 75 taxis in 30 cities in the past year; the worst thing that happened was the driver “got lost.” So did his fare. Great story, though. I thought for a moment this was an Azerbajani spy story.

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