Getting from Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) to downtown Santiago with Uber
Okay, it’s beef time. I’m looking at you Uber Santiago.
First off, I love Uber. I might get their logo for my next tattoo if I could milk it for a few free rides. I’ve used the company’s ride-sharing service in Thailand, Australia, Bali, the U.S., Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, and recently, in Chile. And it’s the Chile experience that’s the meat of this particular beef.
I don’t want to say that Uber has changed the way I travel, but it has most certainly enhanced it. Instead of haggling with crusty taxi drivers over turning on the meter, or hearing the inevitable “I don’t have any change” when you hand them a larger note, Uber’s app gives you a range of exactly how much you can expect to pay, and it’s charged directly to your credit card.
No fuss, no hassle, no rip-offs.
You can even text or send a link to friends or family detailing your route and expected arrival time. If you’ve ever been at the mercy of a shifty cabbie late at night in a strange land, or travelled solo not exactly sure where you’re going, you’ll appreciate just how comforting that can be.
So no amount of inconvenience is going to dampen my Uber crush anytime soon.
But enough gushing filler, let’s get on with that beef.
When I touched down in Santiago, Chile back in January, I knew that Uber was operating in the city, but there was little information online about getting from Santiago airport to downtown Santiago. (It has since been updated, albeit with incorrect information.)
I am a man of questions. Where do I pick up my Uber at the airport? The arrivals level? The departures level? Will I have to schlep over to a local hotel via shuttle (a reality in some locales where Uber is banned from airport pickups) to catch my ride?
So imagine my delight when I connected to the free WiFi at Santiago’s airport, fired up the Uber app and was greeted with this…
Then I clicked on “Learn more” (because I’m committed to lifelong learning.)
Not sure why it’s asking me to download Uber while I’m in the Uber app, but let’s go with it.
Scroll with me…
Sounds civilized enough.
But here’s the thing, it was probably the most frustrating Uber experience I’ve ever had. I made 5 attempts to meet 4 different drivers. In the end, after just over an hour of missed connections (no one can say I’m not a patient man) I broke down and begrudgingly took a taxi.
But I also made it a point to find out what the heck was up with Uber pickups at Santiago’s airport. If there is one thing I’m usually good at, it’s shaking down people to find answers dammit. To come away empty-handed would, as we say in Newfoundland, “rot the bag right off me.” (Yep, it pretty much means exactly how it reads.)
Here’s what your screen will look like when you order an Uber from within the app…
Even within the app it states that the pickup point is in front of the hotel entrance.
In case you’re counting, that’s four times during the booking process that Uber tells you to meet your driver on the sidewalk outside the front of hotel on the arrivals level. FOUR TIMES.
Before I get to my white man’s indignation, to be clear, you need to have data on your smartphone, or at least some sort of internet connection to order your ride (all my app screenshots are from when I came back from Easter Island and successfully met my airport Uber).
The good news is, Santiago’s airport does offer unlimited free WiFi (well, you do need to reconnect after every 30 minutes, but free is free). The bad news is that it only works within the terminal building and slightly outside the main arrival or departure levels doors. The free airport WiFi won’t work across the road where “supposedly” you’re to meet your Uber Santiago driver. So what’s the workaround? Order the ride with the airport’s free WiFi, take a screen shot with the driver’s name, make of car, and license plate, and then…well, hope for the best.
Why? The driver will NOT be waiting across the street in front of the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel on the arrivals level. That’s worth mentioning again since I saw a few folks standing about looking for errant Ubers. Let’s be bold, and go all caps even with this round.
THE DRIVER WILL NOT BE WAITING IN FRONT OF THE HOLIDAY INN AIRPORT HOTEL.
As I was wandering the arrivals level wondering where the actual fuck I was supposed to be, I was even approached by two separate Uber drivers asking if was #1 Malcolm, or #2 Johann. Good news is that I can apparently pass for dudes named Malcolm and Johann. Bad news is I never ran into a driver looking for a Raymond.
Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) Uber Pickup Point
So what’s the deal with Uber Santiago at the airport?
I spoke with a few Uber drivers in Santiago to get the lowdown, and here’s the consensus: taxis do not want Uber around, and Uber is not allowed to pick up at the airport itself. So they discretly pick up from the short-term parking lot — not in front of the Holiday Inn entrance as the app mentioned four separate times.
Although most of the Uber drivers I spoke with conceded that Uber was technically illegal in the country, the company itself says that Uber operates in a legal gray area in Chile. And while I never had a problem catching an Uber anywhere else within Santiago, the initial airport experience might throw a lot of people off. It certainly wasn’t the pleasant intro to Chile I was hoping for. But since I believe most taxi drivers in Chile are assholes (Exhibit A: this video of a taxi driver destroying an Uber vehicle with a baseball bat), I’m rooting for Uber in the country even more.
Now I’m not saying YOUR taxi driver from the airport has a baseball bat as well, but I’m not saying he doesn’t either. So let me do my little bit to help you get from the airport to downtown in an Uber instead.
Here are the steps to successfully meet your Uber driver at Santiago’s airport.
- Order your ride using the airport’s free WiFi (or smartphone data if you have it.)
- If you don’t have smartphone data, take a screenshot of the app with the driver’s name, model of car, and license plate.
- On the arrivals level, head across the street in the direction of the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel.
- Walk far left until you see the ramp pictured below.
- Walk down the ramp to the short-term parking area.
- Wait for your Uber near the parking pay machines.
One driver told me that Uber drivers were only allowed to drop off here as well (and one actually did), but on my final trip to the airport, I was dropped off right on the Departures level in front of the airport entrance. Which begs the question, if the drivers don’t know the actual pick-up and drop-off points, where does that leave Uber’s riders?
In the meantime, if are attempting to grab and Uber at Santiago’s airport, just be prepared to play the waiting game. Or you can take your chances with the bat.