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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