Otopeni Airport is a national embarrassment

Since April 1st of this year it has become very difficult (at times impossible) to easily find a cheap, trustworthy taxi at Bucharest’s Otopeni Henri Coanda Airport.

How have we arrived at this ridiculous situation? Here’s a little background…

For years Bucharest Otopeni Airport was home to some of the world’s most expensive taxis. In the immediate aftermath of the 1989 revolution the airport was a chaotic free-for-all reminiscent of the Middle East, not Europe. Anyone and everyone was fair game for the hundreds of drivers (often these were not even taxi drivers) who would harass and accost all arriving passengers offering ‘cheap’ rides into the city which usually turned out to be anything but.

By the mid-1990s a quasi-Mafia arrangement had taken hold. ‘Preferred’ drivers (almost always charging large amounts and often using rigged or non-existent taxi metres) were allowed to park directly outside the terminal (there was only one in those days), and by hook or by crook kept cheap, honest taxis away. This meant that unknowing visitors to the Romanian capital would end up paying $50 – or even more – for a ride into the city centre.

Finally, in an effort to make arriving at the airport at least a little more respectable, in 2004 a company known as Fly Taxi won a tender to provide exclusive taxi services at Otopeni for five years. A fleet of shiny new cars waited for passengers directly outside arrivals. This was all well and good, with one rather large caveat: Fly Taxi charged 3.50 lei per kilometre, almost three times the cost of a standard Bucharest taxi.

Those of us who wanted to pay a fair price had to call one of the honest Bucharest taxi companies and arrange to meet our taxis in front of a large clock (ceas, in Romanian) which stood at the food of the arrivals ramp. (Taxis other than Fly were not allowed to access the ramp).

Incredibly, in an effort to prevent this practice and force people to use expensive Fly Taxis, the airport authorities brazenly dismantled the clock. Nevertheless, la ceas (at the clock) had become a point of reference and in-the-know passengers were still able to use the spot where it once stood as a place to meet taxis.

Those who were less in-the-know, and perhaps visiting Bucharest for the first time, had little choice but to take a Fly Taxi.

Once Fly Taxi’s monopoly expired, Otopeni once again became bandit country. Only certain taxis (all of whose drivers harassed new arrivals, and charged exorbitant rates) were allowed to access and wait outside the arrivals hall, and the practice of calling taxis and waiting for them la ceas continued.

Things improved a touch with the opening of the new terminal in 2012, as it became possible to simply walk through to departures and pick up a cheap taxi as it dropped passengers off. Indeed, for most people this became the default method of getting a cheap taxi at Otopeni.

Then, in February 2013, everything changed.

A young Japanese student was raped and murdered by a rogue taxi driver, who had approached her in the arrivals hall. Finally, the airport – under pressure from the government – decided that enough was enough and moved to clear the airport of unsafe and rip-off taxis.

The solution chosen was simple.

For the first time ever, passengers arriving at Otopeni were allowed to call the taxi of their choice and have it collect them directly outside the airport terminal. All you had to do was order a taxi via one of six machines stationed within the arrivals hall. These machines dispensed tickets which contained the taxi’s details (company name, ID number, number plate etc.), and which had to be handed over to the driver of the corresponding taxi. The machines offered taxis from almost all major Bucharest taxi companies, most of which charged the standard Bucharest rate of just 1.39 lei per kilometre. Those wanting a bit more luxury could order a more expensive taxi.

The system worked perfectly and everyone – from arriving passengers to taxi drivers – was happy. As this is Romania however, and we are not allowed nice, efficient things for too long, the airport’s management last year decided to do away with it.

In August 2015 the airport announced new regulations regarding which taxis could access the arrivals terminal. In brief, only taxis with boots larger than 500 litres and which had been pre-approved by management could access the airport. This at a stroke meant that hundreds of Bucharest’s taxis which did not have that kind of boot space (either because of the fact that they have LPG tanks installed or simply because they are small cars) were expelled from the airport.

Bucharest’s association of taxi drivers cried foul, and the airport backed down. Unfortunately, this turned out to be only a temporary move: the new regulations (announced last August) came into force on April 1st of this year.

Since then, finding a cheap taxi has become all but impossible. While the ticket dispensing machines still theoretically function, the pitifully small number of cheap taxis which have access to the airport means that in practice, most of the time they fail to find an available car. It usually takes at least 40 minutes – often far longer – to find one. Queues at the machines are therefore very long, and all told it can take anything up to an hour to find a taxi if you are reliant solely on the machines. We should add that if you are willing to pay over the odds (3.50 lei per kilometre) you will find a taxi immediately: either at the machines or outside, where for reasons known only the airport’s management, some rip-off taxis – usually from a company called Class Taxi – are allowed to wait.

In response to the chaos caused by the new rules, the airport – apparently under pressure from the Ministry of Transport – appeared to concede defeat on April 20th and once again granted access to all taxis. This report appears to have been false, however. Whilst the boot-size restrictions have indeed been lifted, cheap taxis not prior-approved by the airport’s management are still barred from entering the arrivals area.

So, how to get a cheap taxi at Otopeni? Our advice (cross-posted from the day job Bucharest In Your Pocket) when arriving at Bucharest airport is as follows. Note that it depends on what time of day or night you arrive.

If arriving before 21:00 the easiest (and quickest) way to get a cheap taxi is to walk through to the departures terminal (turn right as you exit baggage claim) and grab a taxi as it drops departing passengers off. A steady stream of reliable, cheap Bucharest taxis can be found throughout the day and early evening: you will never have to wait more than a couple minutes.

Arriving after 21:00 is more troublesome.

Few flights leave Otopeni late at night, and so taking a taxi as it drops departing passengers off is not really an option. As such, unless you are prepared to wait an hour at the taxi machines, you will need to be a bit more inventive. Here’s how.

As was the case several years ago, the best option is to phone a Bucharest taxi company and arrange to meet your driver la ceas (see above). You can also arrange to meet it at departures. Technically, empty taxis are not allowed to enter the departures area, but we have had no reports (so far) of them being stopped. This situation is fluid, however, and we will keep you posted.

Bucharest taxi companies worth trying include Meridian (021 9444), Cristaxi (021 9466), Speed Taxi (021 9744) and Cobalcescu (021 9451). While English may be spoken, do not rely on it. As such, it is worth downloading a taxi app before leaving home. There are two we recommend: Star Taxi and Clever Taxi. Both apps offer cheap and reliable taxis from a wide range of Bucharest taxi companies.

While Uber is now present in Bucharest (and both useful and popular in the city) we have so far found it to be totally useless at Otopeni.

Of course, there is also the option of public transport.

You can get to town by taking bus No. 783, which stops underneath the arrivals hall, in front of internal arrivals and leaves for the city centre every 30 minutes during the day, and then every 40 minutes through the night. Another bus, No. 780, runs to Gara de Nord from 05:30 – 23:05.

The full timetable of the 783 bus from Otopeni is online at ratb.ro. The 780 timetable is here.

Note that the buses – meant to be ‘airport expresses’ – in fact stop at every halt along their routes. What’s more, the buses are standard Bucharest vehicles not adapted for those travelling to and from the airport (there is nowhere to put your luggage, for example). Still, it’s cheap.

You need to purchase an Activ card before boarding either bus (get it from the little booth which you’ll find on your right hand side as you exit the arrivals building). A return journey into the city and back costs 7 lei (no singles are available, but there is no time limit on using the return). You also need to pay 3.70 lei for the card, but it can be recharged as often as you like at any ticket kiosk in Bucharest, with as much credit as you like, and used on all Bucharest buses and trams. These cards cannot be bought on board. If you have a Romanian SIM card you can pay for your ticket by SMS: send the message E783 or E780 (depending on the bus you are taking) to 7456.

To sum up, Otopeni Airport is currently a public relations disaster for Bucharest and for Romania. Taking a three hour flight from London (or wherever) and then being welcomed with a one hour wait for a taxi on arrival was not (the last time we checked) anywhere to be found in the ‘How to make visitors to your city feel welcome’ manual.

What makes the situation worse is that the current chaos is self-inflicted. There was no logical need to change what was a perfectly functioning system, and to reduce (by over 90 per cent) the number of taxis which can access the airport.

As such, Otopeni is a national embarrassment. Its management (or whoever is responsible for the disaster) should hold their heads in shame.

Instead, when we asked them why it was currently impossible to get a taxi they replied (after a long wait) with this altogether meaningless statement:

otopeni_square

How very helpful.

Top photo source: Adevarul.

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34 thoughts on “Otopeni Airport is a national embarrassment

  1. Basically, it is NOT the airport that is to blame.
    It is the morons who changed the situation and the disreputable Taxi drivers who overcharge.
    I am normally picked up by the company who rent me an apartement.
    However, if I am not collected, I find the 783 bus is perfect.
    Due to the thieves in Taxis, the wait is not that long.

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    1. They don’t overcharge. That’s what it costs. The same way a can of Coca Cola costs 1.6 lei in the supermarket and 9 lei at the restaurant.

      Have you been living in the forrest?!

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      1. You clearly have a closed mind.
        I know of at least one reputable taxi company who will take me to and from the airport for less than HALF the price of the thieving taxi drivers who wait at the airport.
        I am a trustworthy taxi driver myself, so please, do NOT try to convince me those airport taxi drivers are honest….

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      2. And the taxi drivers who wait at the airport will take you for double the fare because that’s what the law says: price / km in Bucharest can be up to 3.5 lei.

        It doesn’t mean they’re thieving. It means they charge higher prices.

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  2. Bucharest is, and always will be, a backwater. That’s why I decided to live here. The city is so odd and perverse that it’s just not funny. Much of what goes on here is flat out illogical. I often have no idea what the powers that be were thinking. Romanians are strange people. That’s a fact.

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    1. Religion teaches hypocrisy which leads to corruption. The more religious a country is the more corrupt it tends to be.

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      1. You speak bullshit.

        China is the biggest atheist country on Earth and still it’s a corrupt society.

        Indonesia, which is a moderately religious country, is the most corrupt society on Earth (they don’t even want to be otherwise).

        While in most atheist countries, the central administration is more corrupt than anywhere on Earth (United States opens the list).

        Corruption is tied to a country’s size, quality of life and density of population.

        In a small country people don’t steal because everybody sees them, it’s like stealing from your family.

        While in a country where people live together and the population density is high, people tend to help each other because there is social pressure among other things and also the feeling that it will get unnoticed.

        You want to end corruption? Depopulate countries, break them apart, make people live separately and raise the quality of life.

        It will never happen, of course. The migration crisis will only make it worse and globalization will bring widespread corruption.

        Just imagine having a single race of people, a single religion, a single economy etc… on a planet of 20 billion people: corruption would be running rampant, only the aliens could stop it.

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      2. You seem not to understand the world around you. Here is a link to a page that reflects atheism by European country. I imagine that even you will see the correlation between increased atheism and decreased corruption.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism

        It is true that it is more complicated than that though. The religion counts. Countries that have a Protestant culture are likely to be less corrupt than Catholic or Orthodox countries, Islam is even more corrupt.
        I view Communism as a bastard religion that creates corruption in much the same way as traditional monotheistic religions.

        So, want to end corruption? End religion, communism/socialism and fascism. Also have a transparent democracy.

        Ask yourself this, is the Orthodox church at the forefront of the fight corruption in Romania, or Greece, or Russia? I mean, it’s clearly a moral issue.

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      3. Again, you speak bullshit.

        Some Protestant countries are indeed the richest in the world, but when we speak about corruption it’s only the Scandis which can be deemed as visibly less corrupt than the rest of the rich countries.

        And that’s because of the reasons I stated, not because of the reasons you stated.

        https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8f/Countries_by_percentage_of_Protestants.svg/

        There are many Protestant (or other Christian) countries in Africa too, but I doubt any of them is less corrupt than Islamic or Hindu or Orthodox countries. Ethiopia is the best example.

        Corruption is tied to the reasons I mentioned, not to your chaotic suppositions about religion.

        Then again, a society without corruption and without religion will have other problems, some of them even more serious… (yes, end f*cking Socialism in the Scandis!!).

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      4. You seem to view the world through a strange filter.

        This is a list of the 10 most atheist countries and the 10 most religious:

        http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/08/09/these-are-the-10-most-atheistic-and-religious-countries/

        Clearly the more religious a country is the more corrupt it is. You can’t get away from that.

        You can even do the experiment in the USA. Which are the most religious states? Now, guess which are the most corrupt states…?

        Africa has horrible amounts of corruption. Most countries are very, very religious and many of them are very socialistic (the modern religion) it is a recipe for disaster.

        A society without religion and corruption will have rich world country problems. Not like Romania that finds it difficult to build a highway from A to B or organise a simple taxi rank at the airport.

        You have of course totally avoided answering the paragraph on Orthodox countries, all of them being terribly corrupt. Nor have you acknowledged the Orthodox church’s complete lack of interest in political corruption.

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      5. The link that you provided proves clearly that you are wrong:

        1. The most atheist society on Earth is China, which is a seriously corrupt society (placed 83rd in the corruption perception index), even more corrupt than the Eastern Orthodox countries.

        2. The top countries in regard to combating corruption (that is the Scandis and New Zealand) don’t make it to top 10 atheist societies.

        3. France and the Czech Republic, which make 2 of the most atheist countries (places 3 and 4 in regard to atheism) are placed 23rd and 37th in the corruption perception index; that is below the Eastern Orthodox nation of Cyprus and the Islamic nation of Qatar.

        4. Just for reference: Romania is placed 58th in the corruption perception index.

        http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015

        As you can see, it has nothing to do with religion. You’re speaking bullshit and making things up.

        It’s just like I said: if you want to end corruption, you must depopulate countries, break them apart, make people live separately and raise the quality of life.

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      6. Are you twelve years old? You seem to think that the world bullshit is an argument… That is three times that you have used it, to no effect whatsoever.

        Romania is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and the most religious. That is clear.

        We don’t actually know how religious China is as it is a one party state that prefers people to state that they are atheist. A bit like if you asked Romanians before the revolution, a lot more would state that they were atheist than do now. Anyway, communism is a bastard religion and dictatorships breed corruption.

        The top atheist countries (bar China) are all in the top 25% less corrupt countries in the world. You don’t mention all the highly religious countries which are very corrupt. Sensible of you.

        Qatar. You really think that this country is less corrupt than France or Czech Republic. Really? Will you stoop so low? Do you so lack arguments that you have to make such obviously false points? To me this underlines exactly how far your thinking is removed from reality. Qatar a beacon of moral governance…

        Again no mention of the Romanian Orthodox church’s lack of interest in corruption. Nor of the Russian, Greek, Serbian or Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It is clear that all of these religious organisations prefer to sidle up to power, rather than expose politicians’ theft. Which rather makes my point about hypocrisy.

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      7. Not only that you’re a foreigner and an atheist, which is bad enough, but you’re also an idiot.

        I just showed you Transparency International’s world corruption perception index together with 3 obvious and logically deducted arguments against your stupidity that derive from it.

        And still you keep speaking bullshit and making up things.

        There was another idiot just like you a few months ago who wouldn’t accept sound facts and arguments about Romania. I don’t understand how you idiots end up on this otherwise respectable blog.

        Hell, I don’t even understand how you lived to the internet era, to begin with!

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      8. The dumber somebody is and the weaker their argument is, the more aggressive they become. I rest my case.

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      9. You’re a foreigner, an atheist and a liberal of outrageous stupidity.

        Your stupidity is beyond the legally accepted limit. You should be arrested.

        * foreigner = an ignorant person who comes to Romania thinking that he knows better than all of us locals

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  3. Thank you for the mention, Graig! You can always be safe calling a cab from our app, and the ride can be paid by card if you just landed in Ro.

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  4. Overheard from a traveler to Bucharest: “I have got a couple of thoughts about Bucharest so far. First, I didn’t understand the taxi ordering system in the airport: why do you have to wait in a line to get a ticket for the taxi if you can just go outside and wave?”

    My answer: “Because if you just go out and wave you will be paying 3.5 lei/km courtesy of Nastase’s wife. . .”

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    1. So what if it costs 3.5 lei?! You pay and you get what you paid for, it’s simple.

      Why don’t you become outraged when you pay 10 lei for a beer at the pub and on top of that you’re ‘supposed’ to leave a tip?!

      In the supermarket it costs 2 lei and it comes without tips.

      If one has enough money to ride around the world in planes, then he can pay 3.5 lei for a taxi. Otherwise he can wait 1 hour and pay less.

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      1. but you have no other option but to take the overcharged taxi. that’ monopoly not capitalism. And there is no difference in quality to justify the price.

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      2. You have many options and each of them suits the price that you pay: go for the bus, wait in line for a normal taxi, walk, call a dedicated airport service etc…

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      3. So let met get this straight. You’re saying that we shouldn’t complain, because there are cheap alternatives, although things worked better in the past. So we all waste either money or time, we just have to choose. How about we get this joke of a system fixed, because there clearly wass, at least in this case, an alternative which combines both cheapness and time saving (with the same quality): you could get a cheap taxi and relatively fast, before this new regulation.

        Let me put it this way. Using your example, what if instead of 10 lei a beer in the pub, someone decides something has to change, and you get a rule by which you get to wait one hour for a 10 lei beer, or you get it immediately, but you pay 20 lei. I hope you won’t complain when you will be presented with this lovely choice.

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      4. I will choose another pub. It’s their problem if they want to keep me as a client or not.

        And nobody should complain about airport taxis either. They can simply move their investment elsewhere, decide to visit another country than Romania, postpone their visit until a new airport is built or take one of the more expensive alternatives from the airport to the city center.

        Outlawing drugs never made drugs disappear. In the end market forces took their share: wherever there’s demand for drugs, there’s also drugs available for sale.

        Market forces will take their share in the airport taxi deal, no need for us to complain.

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      5. Seems like they interfered with the market by restricting access to the cheapest taxis (which had the smaller size). A truly free market would have allowed all taxis, and had the customer choose which one was right based on price, convenience, comfort, etc.

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      6. Yeah, somewhat. But in the end the criteria is objective and it serves the purpose of passengers coming in with luggage.

        I doubt any customer would want to call for a cab only to find out that his luggage won’t fit in. As it happened in Bruxelles… =)))))))))

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      7. Thing is Parmo, a beer costs 10lei in a pub but nearly all of that money goes back to the government in taxes. Anyone who pays rent on a bar and only sells alcohol, don’t make shit! Where does it say that you must leave tips? Get yourself on a plane and head to Dubes/Dubai and see how far you get when you moan about paying 70-100 Lei a beer!

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  5. You all seem to have a problem with Capitalism… if the price is 3.5 lei and you get what you paid for, then it’s called Capitalism.

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  6. I’ve never had trouble getting an Uber at the airport – last time there were a couple of cars around there already and it took less than 5 minutes. They are not allowed on the ramp, but they can pick you up from the parking lot across the road from the departures exit (usually they call after you order).

    Like

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