Why You Don’t Take Uber In Moscow At 6AM…

Filed Under: Travel, Uber

This morning we flew Singapore Airlines from Moscow to Houston, a flight that departed at 9:40AM. Singapore Airlines operates out of Domodedovo Airport, which is the Moscow airport further from the city. Traffic in Moscow can be terrible, so we left the hotel extra early, at around 6AM. The drive takes about an hour, so we figured that would get us there plenty early.


We decided to use UberBLACK, which cost a very reasonable 2,500RUB (~39USD) for the hour-long drive.


The guy who picked us up seemed friendly, at least compared to the other Uber drivers we had in Moscow. He didn’t really speak English, but said “music?” as we got in the car, and then turned on some dance music.

Clubs in Moscow on the weekends seem to be insane, as people seem to party till 6AM. So as we started driving I thought to myself “this guy has probably been driving since last night,” since I doubt many Uber drivers are starting at 5-6AM on a Sunday morning.

Domodedovo Airport is nearly an hour drive from the city (it’s almost 50 kilometers away), so I figured that was further than he was expecting to drive when he got the request, but also that he wouldn’t mind, since it’s good money for him.

We got out of the city without anything strange happening, but then found ourselves on the road leading to the airport. It’s basically a straight 2-3 lane road for probably 20-30 kilometers.

I was sitting in the back right of the car, so I could see the drivers eyes through the rearview mirror. I saw them open and close, open and close. And I saw that they progressively stayed closed for a long and longer amount of time. Then he started swerving, to the point that other drivers had to get out of the lane next to us. Finally he drifted so far that we nearly got in an accident, and the car next to us had to swerve onto the shoulder.

Ford speaks a little bit of Russian, so at that point he asked the driver if everything was okay. The driver said yes. Ford and I started to have a loud conversation, figuring that he’d be more likely to stay awake if there’s noise in the car. But he kept swerving.

I don’t know why I have such terrible luck, as I had a similar thing happen in Abu Dhabi a while back. In this case I really didn’t know what to do, though we were scared for our lives:

  • Do we ask him to pull over on the side of the road, even though there’s not really anywhere to pull over, and we can’t really get out on an interstate?
  • We can’t really communicate with him much, so what else can we really say?

So we proceeded to have a loud conversation, our palms were sweating, and on my phone I was counting down every fraction of a mile to when we’d be there. I reminded myself that there are a lot of tired people on the road, and a vast majority of people don’t have accidents (though this guy was especially tired).

While I enjoy the general challenges of traveling, like finding my way around, discovering new places, etc., it’s people irresponsibly doing their jobs that’s my least favorite part of travel. That’s significantly worse when you’re traveling than when you’re at home, especially when you can’t speak the language, don’t know the alternatives, don’t know social norms, etc. I don’t mind getting lost, but it sucks when you truly feel hopeless in situations like this.

Also, I wish Uber changed the information they showed drivers before a ride. As a feature, Uber doesn’t show drivers the destination until they start the trip. It’s intended to be a customer friendly policy, so that drivers don’t turn down short trips, etc. But at the same time, I really wish they’d show it, especially since entering the destination is voluntary. Maybe the guy wouldn’t have accepted the trip if he knew it were to the airport. Or who knows, maybe he still would have…

What would you do in a situation like this?

  1. Good god! Stop the car immediately/ tell him to and get a cab! It’s your life!
    Or … get him off the wheel and drive yourself…. (i’m a limo driver myself,So maybe thats just me…)
    But whatever, STOP THE CAR!

  2. I had a similar situation happen to me in the UK travelling to Gatwick from central London in the early hours. As soon as we hit the highway, the driver of the cab was really struggling to stay awake and was drifting between lanes. Luckily the road was pretty empty. At a certain point I saw we were approaching a service area, and I asked him to pull in with the excuse that i needed to grab a coffee. I think the driver knew he was struggling because he got out of the car as soon as we stopped and I took my time getting my drink. I think the cold morning air freshened him up somewhat as he was OK after that, but a bit worrying..

  3. Generous my ass! I waited for an Uber pick up in St.Petersburg (LED) to take me to the airport. The driver was a no show. They “Applogized” and gave me 100 Ruble ($1.56 USD) refund after charging me for a No Call/No Show.

    Uber is usually great in Russia, but not perfect…

  4. I had a different experience with a German driver last year. He was hopelessly lost so I got on my phone and used my Translator App to give him directions in German. I’m sure my German was laughable but good enough to find the place I needed to go. Might work in a similar situation – your attempt at Russian just might be funny enough to keep him awake.

  5. Are you allergic to getting to the point? What an awfully long post to tell us that your Uber driver fell asleep at the wheel.

  6. Really scary stuff. I’ve had an uber ride with a driver who was clearly off on some sort of drugs high – I curtailed the trip (making an excuse about having forgotten something at the hotel).

    The best thing is clearly to spot something is wrong before you end up on a freeway where there’s the (greater) potential for serious damage and injury. Unfortunate that this wasn’t possible in this case!

    I think I would have:
    1) Engaged the driver in conversation – even without speaking the language you can hopefully keep him talking. Talk about the music, mention names of celebrities, or whatever.

    2) Checked to see if there was anywhere en-route the destination could be changed to, to reduce the number of high risk miles driven.

    3) I think there is the facility to cancel a trip even while you’re driving. This wont make you any friends with the driver, and I’ve never done it, but perhaps this would send an alert / stop guidance and encourage them to stop the journey?

    Reporting to Uber is obvious, but doesn’t help at the time!

    I too would be interested to hear what others would have done.

  7. I would have taken the Aeroexpress. Biz tickets are cheaper than UberBlack. $1000 Rubles not including the 10% discount when purchasing at a ticket window.

  8. Make multiple checks on the driver and let him know you’re concerned.
    If he seems too sleepy (or erratic or lost, or whatever reason), ask to be dropped off at a gas station or other place — and hail another Uber.
    Make a report on the ride later, and you’ll more than likely get a refund and the rest of your trip (hopefully) covered by a better driver.

  9. Quite often, probably not this time since u pay with uber, this is a scam of drivers…. They frighten customers make them nervous, and therefore extremely happy when they arrive at destination. And too often they do not check the change 🙂 this happened to me in auh 3 times, the change was always wrong

  10. This is one of many reasons I always take trains to/from airports whenever they are available.

  11. People are commenting on refunds here … guys the point is about surviving a ride like this – its about lives, not money! Just my thoughts…

  12. are you european or american ben? the airport is almost 50 kilometers away, how many miles is that? why can’t you say the airport is blank miles away…

    also, americans do not queue in line, we stand in line or we wait in line.
    is your blog written mainly for americans or non-americans?

  13. Hey Daniel,

    I personally love that Ben uses kilometers and words like queue. It reminds me of why I love to travel. It also doesn’t hurt those of us from the USA to be more like the rest of the world.

  14. Plain simple, don’t take UBER. Take a professional, Licensed cab ! we never feared for our lives in a licensed cab before UBER came about. Penny savvy, risking your life.

  15. Having taken that flight about 200 times (11K and 15K are my seats ;)), I’m surprised you didn’t mention the 100+ passengers who claim to need wheelchairs at DME for that flight. It’s like a SNL skit! Of course when it comes time to deplane they are all miraculously cured and ready to push their way through the crowds to de-board!

  16. Lucky– Told you to take the hotel car service in an earlier comment!! This was our only mistake in Moscow. We also had a 6am flight. However, our driver smelled like he had crapped his pants and attempted to extort money as we neared the airport. We speak enough Russian and yelled out “nyet.” He also stopped once on the side of the road to look at his phone?!? I tried to warn you.

  17. You and ford get more annoying by the day.

    Because you had a bad experience and were scared like 2 little girls you want uber to change a great policy? Can you imagine how many uber drivers wouldn’t pick you use if they knew where you were going?

  18. What about the Russian women. Are they really as beautiful as in the mail order bride catalogs?

  19. Is the David above that says “Are you allergic to getting to the point? What an awfully long post to tell us that your Uber driver fell asleep at the wheel;” the same David that seems to always be an ass?

    Lucky, you need to make it mandatory to use the same login all the time. Some of your commenters appear to be chronically negative and it would be nice to know who they are.

  20. @Credit Are you really so naïve? Most of those photos are of models, taken from obscure Russian catalogues, and used without their knowledge. When you email, supposedly to them, you unknowingly get connected with a 50 year old guy named Igor. Who regales you with a sad luck story, and then asks you to send her (him) some travel money to come meet you. The only good part of that is that he will take the money and you will never actually meet him. 😉

  21. Tired drivers lacking regulation or anyway to ensure they are not overtired and working 2-3 other jobs will surely result in some dead uber passengers.

    I took a 70mile Uber ride from Bangkok last month, and I used google translate to ask a driver ‘is this ok? and “are you too tired”

    The first driver opted out of the ride. fine.

    Second driver lied and said it was illegal to take me that far UNLESS I cancelled and re-requested an Uber Black. THEN he would take me.

    Third driver-no problem. 70 miles, 2hrs of time. $11/USD. wow.

    Almost missed our flight later that trip because there seems to be an unwritten rule that Uber drivers could not pick us up unless their low fuel light was on.

  22. Personally I agree with one of the comments here. Get out of the car it’s your life. On the other hand I don’t support Uber – it is not a fair same playing FIELD as taxi drivers have to go thru and I feel bad for the taxi drivers who are earning a living. In Singapore the Taxi Association has been asking the government to give a fair same playing field but to no success. So till then no to Uber – the drivers of our taxis in Singapore are hard working folks. They need a break!

  23. Scary – would have insisted he pull over – either to wait for a new ride or to find out if he was pulling a fast one.

    I did learn something – didn’t realize Uber doesn’t tell drivers the destination before accepting. Strange given you can input the destination.

    But explains some phantom accepts that never turn into actual pickups.

  24. Lucky –

    Next time pull over and get in the front seat with. If he falls a sleep at least you can grab the wheel.

  25. I actually had almost exactly the same experience last year (I think it was UberX rather than UberBlack) on a ride to DME airport for a 6.30 am flight, my only time using Uber in Russia. The driver was constantly swerving, due to fatigue and/or intoxication, although perhaps not quite as bad as what you described. I rated him accordingly and send an email to Uber detailing the issue, and only got a “we care about safety, blah blah blah” email back, no refund (although that was the least of my concerns). Would not use Uber again in Moscow.

  26. You should have gotten Uber to a nearest Aeroexpress Train station instead, unless you were closer to the airport than the station.

  27. I had that happen to me in a taxi in India at 5am. I asked the driver to move over and drove the car myself to the airport.

  28. Agree with @Pam ! I didn’t even pick up on ‘kilometres’ or ‘queue’ as it is what we have, and how we spell it in Australia.
    The only reason America doesn’t us the metric system of weights and measurements like the rest of the world is that the majority of the population is too dumb (or lazy) to get their heads around it. I’m amazed that you even use dollars and cents, and not pounds, shillings and pence, which is the currency your earliest colonies started with. Australia (and New Zealand) did a total switch in the 1960’s. Took a few weeks to get used to it, but no regrets!

  29. I guess that’s worse than the Uber driver who was stoned when he picked us up. No erratic driving, but not what you expect.

  30. Your fault for traveling to a Communist country. Any “business” you needed to conduct could be handled with conference calls and video. Any “samples” you need to review could be shipped directly to you. Name an excuse and I’ll tell you the solution we’ve had in place for the last 30 years. Don’t EVEN say it was a vacation because that would be totally retarded.

  31. @Glenn..calling Americans too dumb and stupid is one reason I wouldn’t visit your snake, rodent infested country, one of which has some of the most numerous on earth. Hope you don’t get bitten by a Brown snake.

  32. @Daniel so the blog should only be for Americans then?

    Moving on : whilst this is not about Uber, that heart in mouth as the driver weaves across the road reminds me of an overnight coach ride through Germany on route back to the UK ftom Warsaw.

    Massive storm all the way and wandering all over the place. Same deal, my Polish wasn’t up to the conversation plus I was midway down the bus and hemmed in by people and all the bags they had on their knees that they shouldn’t have had.

    It was an adventure for sure, but never again!

  33. My last Uber experience from (fantastic) Moscow to Domodedovo airport was epic too, in another way though. I was very very late and told the driver he’ll get an extra cash if by any chance I’d arrive on time. He smiled and told me he was a former rallye champion and currently half time personal driver for a very important official. He looked very happy to show his skills and literally took the highway for a F1 race, up to 200km/h on a road full of cars, and when there was traffic jam he just turned to the emergency lane up to 160km/h.. it was just insane and I couldn’t even talk anymore, afraid he’ll loose his attention for a sec and provoke an accident. I arrived an half hour earlier at the airport, shaking but got my plane. Let’s say it was an experience. I put 5 stars for the ride, but got the lesson: never ask a russian driver to speed up.

  34. I stick to a simple rule with Uber. When in the US, Uber. When outside the US, use a prepaid cab. Unfortunately Uber drivers are even less regulated outside the US.

  35. an hour long uber ride in manila costs about $5 and if youre antsy about drivers and questionable movements then you probably should skip it there.

  36. @Scott~ I’m guessing you’re a Trump supporter by your ignorant rant; now that would that be the new definition of dumb! I’m sure I speak for many here in being delighted in not having you here at a future time! Sorry to acquaint you with your own country’s history (bet you didn’t know), and you should brush up on Australian flora & fauna before you make sweeping comments; it’s pretty sketchy, to be kind.
    @Brian~ God knows how you arrived at that conclusion (Better tuck in your homophobia; it’s showing!)

  37. Reason to just not use a ride-share at all. Every experience I’ve had on ride-shares has been bad.

  38. You don’t have to speak the language to tap the guy on the shoulder when he starts to nod off.

  39. From Ben’s article I have learned a new travel tip: learn to say “Wake up!” in every language. And possibly “We’re all going to die!” might be useful too.

  40. Dear Lucky,

    I’m happy to know your luck served you well in this situation.
    However, this is a good example of the poor standards offered by Uber in many markets.
    In most European countries Uber will be someone’s private car, NOT controlled and approved for passenger transport, and the driver not approved either, meaning he doesn’t have the appropriate training and required license.
    This is for one the case in my country, Denmark, where Uber has just been ruled illegal by the court.
    While I do like the idea of an international app for booking transport, you just can’t be certain what you get. (I have heard about Uber drivers switching phones so you won’t see all their bad reviews).
    May I recommend you to use any service which provides reliable and reputable services of high standards.
    I offer such international services at http://www.greenelimo.com, where we promote sustainable passenger transportation.
    It would be a pleasure to ensure your safe transportation through our trusted partners worldwide.

    Thank you so very much for your fascinating reports, which are of great interest to me, as I live by the famous Hans Christian Andersen quote: “to travel is to live.”

    Happy travels!

    Best regards,
    Christoffer Holmsteen

  41. Pay peanuts and you get Monkeys,no refunds on your life??? Bet you don’t use Uber again to go to an Airport??

  42. @Dean: I’ve had far more scary taxi rides than Uber rides. Same goes for the state of the vehicles themselves — the Uber cars might not have been new, but I’ve never been in one which smelled of vomit, body odor, or had layers of filth on them. Taxis on the other hand..

  43. “…especially since entering the destination is voluntary.”

    In San Diego at least Uber now requires you to enter your destination before you can request a ride — it’s no longer voluntary. They made this change earlier this year when they introduced UberPool, but it applies to any Uber ride (X, XL, Select, Black, SUV, etc.).

  44. Had a similar situation happen to me in Columbus when using Uber going to the airport. We had a flight at 5:45 am and got an uber to the airport at around 3am. The drive to the airport is only around 20 minutes without traffic from our house. Our Uber driver though started falling asleep the second we got on the highway. He drifted into the lane of a taxi next to us during a turn and almost hit him. Thankfully, the taxi honked and flashed its lights, motioning for our driver to pull over. That, combined with us yelling at him, got him to stop the car. We then got in the cab which took us to the airport.

  45. Another vote for the AeroExpress! Also love taking the Moscow Metro when travelling with hand baggage.

  46. Wow I had the exact same experience taking an Uber to DME airport at 5 in the morning! The guy swerved onto the noise strip on the side of the road and my friend and I got pretty nervous, it was obvious he was tired. Fortunately he spoke a bit of English so I just talked to him… I thought it was an isolated incident but I guess not, at least not in Moscow. My experience with Uber has mostly been positive elsewhere though and being able to get a receipt without asking for it is great for expense reports.

  47. It’s cause Uber doesn’t pay drivers jack. Tip the poor guys whenever prudent (as in whenever your experience was at least ok-ish)

    You don’t want a tired, desperate guy in a supposedly-luxury-class service, or something even worse at lower levels?? Just flag down a big sedan or SUV in the street and offer him at least twice what the highest level of Uber charges for a ride to the airport.

    He’ll accept (because he wouldn’t have stopped otherwise) and you’ll get a normal bloke in a working vehicle

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