Hailing a Taxi in the City: Travel Etiquette

Summer travel is here, and getting from the plane to your hotel, and everywhere in between will be on the top of your travel transportation list. If you are a novice in the big city, you may be at a loss when it comes to public transportation. Today we’ll tackle etiquette when hailing a taxi:

At the airport – Find out if you catch a taxi curbside or if you must walk to a designated taxi stand where you will be directed further. Generally you get the next taxi in line, but don’t be surprised if a large group is shuttled into the van before you are. Stay friendly and smile – the next taxi will be there in a matter of seconds.

Raise it like you mean it – If your intention is to swat a fly, a quick whoosh will suffice. If your intention is to hail a cab, raise your hand high in the air and look like you know what you are doing. This is no time to be meek – someone is behind you waving harder and faster! If you are daring, do the assertive thing and gently step off the curb right after extending your arm; this shows nerve and need—just be careful where you step your peep toe pumps.

No cuts – Walking a few feet up or down the way to get noticed is not politically correct, but it’s done on a regular basis. Just remember to space yourself at least 15 feet from another cab hailer before flagging down your own ride.  If you are really desperate and can’t get a taxi in your direction, walk a few blocks out of your way, try another street and don’t stress about rerouting your course to get back on track.

Light cues –   Part of the frustration with visiting a large city is trying to figure out why the taxi isn’t stopping, even though the back seat is vacant.  If all the lights on the top of the taxi are illuminated, the taxi is off duty. If you see only the middle light illuminated, the taxi is yours if you can catch it. If none of the lights are illuminated, the cab is occupied with other customers and you will show your lack of taxi savvy by trying to chase it down while the occupants seem to be a bit amused or relieved that’s it’s “you” and not “them.”

Before you close your door to take off – Make sure that your driver accepts credit cards. Many drivers will tell you that their machine is broken (whatever!), and it’s up to you to get out before you are stuck using your last $50.00 on the drive to the hotel. BTW, why do you only have $50.00 when you knew you were taking a trip?

Know the address – Rather than saying “I’m going to the big hotel next to the monument with a dinosaur in front,” have a specific address handy. If you are in a different country, make sure to get the address and directions from a reliable source in the country’s native language.

Be prepared with dollars – There are a multitude of fees associated with taking a taxi, don’t ask the driver why the meter is running while the cab is idling. When the taxi stops, be ready to pay rather than slowly pulling out your wallet and rifling around for spare change and random dollar bills. Pay the tab and don’t forget to tip accordingly (see the bullet far below).

Know the pecking order of who sits where – Typically it is expected that the customer sits in the back seat unless lack of space requires someone to ride up front. Always put small children in the back seat with parental supervision so they are safer and less distracting to the taxi driver. If you are one of those people that absolutely cannot ride in the back seat, ask the driver first and let him or her know that you’d prefer to ride up front.  If you’re with guests, clients or senior colleagues, let them have the best seat – the one in back, closest to the curb. Jr. Execs get the seat closest to the street, the middle or the front. And by the way, in business, it is the role of the Jr. Exec to hail the cab and pay the bill.

Tip the taxi driver 15-20% of the bill – More for extra effort, such as helping you with bags and carrying them to the curb.

Hailing a taxi is a skill you can’t afford to overlook when visiting a big city. Hail with confidence and happy trails.

Safe Travels,


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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