By the time I landed at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC at midnight, I’d been traveling for nearly 16 hours. I was exhausted and dreading the idea of going to work in the morning. But I still had some hope of getting a reasonable amount of sleep. Unfortunately, my hopes were quickly dashed as I tried to organize my (pre-booked) ride home. My nightmare trip with Super Shuttle from Dulles took three and a half hours. During that time, I was misdirected by its check-in system, lied to by the customer service staff and came close to being stranded at the airport.
Now, I have pretty high tolerance for horrible transportation. I’ve been crammed into speeding minivans in Ethiopia, hitchhiked my way around remote northern Romania, left on the side of the road by a broken-down bus in Honduras, and ridden hundreds of kilometers in the back of a pickup truck in Laos. But I can honestly say that my experience with Super Shuttle was the worst transportation experience I’ve ever had. So I’m writing this post as a warning for other budget travelers who may be looking for affordable Dulles Airport shuttle options. Here’s what happened…
Super Shuttle has awful reviews. Why did I even consider it?
It doesn’t take much research to realize that taking Super Shuttle from Dulles is likely to be a terrible option. The reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor are enough to scare anyone away. Reports of drivers never showing up, vans being in disrepair, and even reckless driving abound.
The only problem? If you have a late-night or early-morning arrival or departure from Dulles, which is quite common, you have few other options to get between the airport and the city. Public transportation in Washington, DC shuts down at 11:30 pm on weeknights and doesn’t reopen until 5 am.
Of course, you could always take a taxi. But a trip to downtown DC costs at least $80. Uber isn’t much cheaper (and comes with the added disadvantage of using your money to support the company’s exploitative labor practices).
Super Shuttle from Dulles comes in at around $30 plus driver tip for a shared-ride van, making it easily the most affordable option. Plus I’ve had several pretty good experiences using the Dulles Super Shuttle, although not in some time. While reading through the reviews, I came to the conclusion that most people just had too high of a standard for what a shared van is. So I decided to take the chance.
Checking in for my Super Shuttle from Dulles
I made my Super Shuttle reservation a few days in advance of my trip. In order to book, I had to enter all the details of my flight arrival. This gave me the impression that Super Shuttle would use this information to, you know, coordinate my ride. Why else would you ask when my flight lands?
When my flight landed at midnight, I immediately got a text asking me to check in. I began the check-in process as instructed. But about halfway through, I got a “hold on” message asking if I’d already gotten through security and picked up my bags. So I paused the check-in process while I was in line at customs and at baggage claim.
Once I was ready to leave the airport, I finished checking in. The website told me to go to Gate 2B to meet a customer service representative. (Super Shuttle at Dulles no longer has a kiosk inside the airport.) I also received a text confirming that my check-in was complete and I’d get another text once my ride arrived.
Well, I got to Gate 2B and no one was there. So I called the phone number on the website for additional assistance. The call connected (I got a “this call may be monitored or recorded” message) but I didn’t even hear ringing on the other end — the phone line didn’t work.
As a last resort, I scrolled through the series of confirmation texts. One of them said the customer service representative could be at either Gate 2B or 2G. So I walked the 10 minutes down to the other end of the pickup area, where I finally found a customer service representative.
Customer service from hell: Waiting 90 minutes for a van
When I found the customer service representative, the first thing he said to me was, “There are no vans. Maybe you should request a refund and take a taxi.”
I inquired as to how it was possible that after making a reservation for a specific time, and checking in, there could simply not be any vans. I was especially skeptical because I could see on the employee’s iPad that there were in fact graphics of a few vans driving around in the area. His response? “Maybe you have to wait an hour. Sometimes it happens.”
My next question was, if Super Shuttle was going to drop the ball and force me to take a taxi, were they going to pay the difference between the ride they were supposed to provide and the taxi ride? The customer service rep told me he didn’t have the authority to make that decision. So I asked him who did. He replied that the van dispatch person could help, but Dispatch hadn’t been picking up his phone.
I insisted that he call Dispatch on speaker. We did, in fact, get voicemail, but the customer service rep didn’t leave a message.
Then, two other Super Shuttle customers arrived. The three of us asked the customer service rep to call Dispatch again. This time he got through, but he didn’t ask about the taxi situation. He just asked Dispatch (with no sense of urgency whatsoever) to help find a driver.
By now it was around 1:45 am. The customer service rep informed us that if we still didn’t have a ride by 2 am, he was going to have to leave, and Dispatch would be going offline for the rest of the night — leaving us stranded with no way to find our ride. He again told us we should take a taxi.
The lying customer service representative
At this point, my patience was all used up. I lost my temper a bit at the customer service representative and demanded that he find us a driver immediately. So he began calling drivers he knew personally, as well as making more urgent calls to Dispatch.
It was on one of these phone calls that I discovered that the reason we’d been waiting so long was entirely the customer service representative’s fault. I gathered from overhearing his conversation with Dispatch that when I had checked in, there had been a van ready to pick me up — the one I had seen on his iPad screen. But because I was only one person, the customer service representative had sent the van away. His reason? “Sometimes the drivers get mad” if they don’t stand to earn a lot in tips.
The collective frustration of the three passengers at this point must have gotten through to the customer service representative, because he agreed to stay past 2 am to find us a ride. Around 2:20 am, Dispatch called to say a van was on its way. We just had to walk back to Gate 2B to meet it.
Super Shuttle almost abandons another customer
We got in the van and discovered another customer had been waiting at the other gate with no customer service support whatsoever. But at this point, we were all just relieved to be on our way out of the airport.
Five minutes later — just as we were about to get on the highway to head into the city — the driver got a phone call. It turned out that another passenger who was supposed to be on our van had been searching for the customer service representative, and had finally found him. So we had to spend another 15 minutes driving back to the airport to pick her up.
Once we were on our way, the ride in the Super Shuttle from Dulles was totally fine. I got home within an hour (about what I expected). But the 90 minutes I’d waited for my ride had taken its toll — I walked in my door at 3:30 am, three and a half hours after my flight landed.
Follow-up: Requesting a refund
Needless to say, I was furious about my experience taking the Super Shuttle from Dulles. So when the company sent me a “customer satisfaction survey,” I did not hold back in expressing my disappointment with its services.
Apparently, the survey answers I provided were bad enough that immediately afterwards, Super Shuttle sent me another email asking me to report my experience as an incident. I was more than happy to do so. In my incident report, I provided the name of the customer service representative and requested a refund.
Five days later, the company wrote back to me to let me know they were processing my refund. I have to admit, as angry as I am at the on-the-ground staff with Super Shuttle from Dulles, their customer service online was surprisingly good.
Conclusion: Never take Super Shuttle from Dulles
I have certainly learned my lesson from this horrible experience — the Dulles Super Shuttle is not worth the hassle. Going forward, I will only book flights that get me to Dulles during the hours when I can take public transportation. And if I absolutely have to arrive after midnight, I’ll stay in a cheap ($50) hotel near Dulles and head into the city in the morning on the bus.
I hope by sharing my experience I can save you some travel hassle in the future. And if you’ve had a similarly awful experience, please share it in the comments!
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That sounds very frustrating and unprofessional of Super Shuttle, I would be fuming by now along with being very tired. Good on you for being persistent.
I’m still furious, and it’s been two weeks and i got my refund.
That’s an awful experience! I’m glad it has a happy ending and you got a refund for the poor experience. Thankfully, I haven’t had an experience like that around airport transportation.
I am flying to Dulles for the first time in a long long time tomorrow. I hope my experience with the airport is more favorable than yours. I will be on a direct flight and renting a car (to drive west actually) so Super Shuttle will not be involved. I prefer DCA and then taking the metro in, but usually it’s my company paying for the flight and the hotel. Sorry to hear about your experience. I find sometimes you learn more about the ethos of a company by how the respond to your complaints.
Oh wow. I would have completely lost my mind when I discovered the rep sent the van away because I was only one person. Completely lost my mind. The rep would never do it again lol
What an absolute nightmare! Sometimes you have to go with something that you know has bad reviews because you are left with no choice! I hope that at least they try to improve.
I feel like they’re more likely to cancel their service in DC than fix it at this point :/.
Oh my God, that does sound like a horrible experience with Super Shuttle. It is annoying that Dulles is so far away from Downtown DC and that public transportation doesn’t run all night. We live in Portland, OR which also shuts down all of their buses and their light rail from about 12:30am-4:30am so if you arrive late or leave early from the airport you’re out of luck. Supposedly they are expanding their hours next year to serve the airport at night – yah! Glad you got a refund but this story of what happen to you will definitely make… Read more »
That’s great to know about Portland too — I was just looking at flights there that land after-hours. But I’m not sure I’m in for another airport transportation nightmare anytime soon.
This is tough. Arriving anywhere late, I tend to pay up to avoid nightmare scenarios like these. I recall a taxi driver in Shanghai charging $60 for a ride not too far out; first I was annoyed but considering less reliable options I paid up, got to my hotel in 30 minutes and went to sleep. Tweeted for you.
thanks for spreading the word Ryan! At a certain point stubbornness sets in…sure, I COULD pay for the taxi, but I’m more set on winning the argument (or in this case, getting the service I paid for) than my own comfort/sleep.
That is such a frustrating experience! Thanks for sharing so others hopefully won’t go through the same thing. Glad they at least refunded your trip and cared enough to ask for your feedback. Getting into town from most major airports in the US late night is a pain. It’s good advice, as you said, to arrive during hours when public transportation is still running, or to stay nearby overnight.
Thanks for this review in case I find myself in need of a ride at Dulles. I did not realize that public transit stopped so early so that is not a great option. I understand how you looked at reviews. You need to read a lot to really see if the opinions would match yours. But sad to hear that your view was as bad. It was unacceptable that they lied to you and that a driver would decide not to do a pickup. After all, who else was he going to drive? We have had similar bad experiences when… Read more »
That was my thinking exactly! Like, if you have to give them the time to pick you up at, you’d think they’re going to use that information for something!
Gosh that sounds dreadful. You can have a similar experience with EasyBus here in the UK – they overbook and mess up their schedule, then leave passengers stranded. And, there’s no way to complain! I’ll remember to find another way to get to Washington if I am visiting
No way to complain!? That’s insane!
Wow. I appreciate your points on this experience – especially you are someone who has put up with some crazy travel experiences in other countries. But this is absurd! Especially when a customer service agent makes such a lame excuse. I hope this post makes them more accountable, we are reading it and we don’t plan on using them!!
Yeah, I was ready to give them a free pass until the customer service agent lied to me. That’s just inexcusable.
Amazing. I had a nearly as horrible experience as you with Super Shuttle at Dulles, and so did my husband on a completely separate trip. I think we’re done with them for good now.
Oh no, that’s awful! I’m with you on being done with them for good.
Thanks so much for sharing this. What an awful experience. When something like this happens it’s important to get the info out there. They don’t deserve to have any customers at all if that;s they way they treat you!
Right!? I’d rather them just leave DC altogether and at least know that that option isn’t available.
Omg good to know! This sounds like such a nightmare! That’s so crazy that such a well-known brand was so unorganized. Sorry to hear you had to go through that but glad it all worked out in the end and you got a refund. I honestly would have just paid the $80 for a taxi and then complained to Super Shuttle, they may have refunded you for that amount or offered a free credit!
That would have been smart! Will keep that in mind next time I have a horrible travel nightmare 🙂