Your Transfer Driver – The Unsung Hero of the Alps
Your Transfer Driver is truly the unsung hero of the Alps and here’s why.
I get it – I really do as a Transfer Driver myself.
You’ve got up at 3am on a Saturday morning, woken up your children, dragged them kicking and screaming to your car or taxi, got to the airport, coped with all the chaos that air travel throws at you these days and you’ve landed at Geneva Airport. You’ve waited an age for your large ski bags to come through and finally got through to the arrivals hall, where it looks as though all the world has arrived at once. You struggle to the transfer desk, bark out your name to the person behind it and assume that you’ll be on your way shortly.
Well, it turns out that when you booked your transfer, you wouldn’t stump up to pay for a private transfer, which would have guaranteed that you’d be on your way straight away. You decided to pay for a shared transfer that was cheaper, or even an economy-shared transfer that was even cheaper still. I understand – skiing holidays are expensive and you thought that you’d save a bit by opting for the shared transfer option. The trouble is, you didn’t read the Ts and Cs (I mean who does right?) and you’ve now got to wait for up to an hour for the other people sharing your minibus to land and come through.
You go back to your partner who’s struggling not to publicly beat your two children, who are by this time hungry, tired and behaving in a manner that so endears them to all your fellow passengers. They’re really hoping that they’re not sharing your van by now!
Suddenly, you get the first bit of good news of the day. Your fellow transfer passengers have also arrived at the transfer desk and you’re introduced to your transfer driver by the company rep. They smile widely, say hello and introduce themselves. They even say hello to your two children who are now acting as though they should all be called Damian, and offer to help you with your bags to the minibus. They make polite conversation with you or your children answering all questions with a smile.
There are only two questions asked – How long will the transfer take and what is the snow like up there? It’s two months into the season and you’re the seventy fifth transfer they’ve done so far!
You don’t care though and we all get that. It’s all about you and our job is to get you safely up the mountain and to your accommodation so that you can start to enjoy your holiday. We get you to the minibus, and load up your luggage in the right order so that the multiple drop offs can be done smoothly without unpacking everything to get to the one bag at the bottom. We organise and sort out child seats, baby seats, arguments over who’s sitting where and who’s sitting in the front. We ensure that everyone is briefed on the wearing of seatbelts, what do you if they feel sick at any time and finally get into the driver’s seat. We smile again, remind everyone that you will stop if anyone feels sick and to use the sick bags provided in an emergency. If you’ve ever been in a minibus full of people where someone projectile vomits over two other passengers, you’ll understand every driver’s nightmare.
You set off and at this point there are a number of possible scenarios.
Scenario One – Everyone falls asleep after fifteen minutes and you wake up when you’re nearly there. In fact, you wake up to a blizzard that your driver is driving through, seemingly without any care in the world. You look out and see enough snow on the road to paralyse the UK for a week at least. At this point you ask the transfer driver, who’s name you have forgotten so you call him “Driver”, whether you will get there ok? They respond positively and tell you that it’s just a light snow covering and that they won’t need snow chains at this point. You sit back, marvelling at how winter tyres cope with the snow, and peer out into the blizzard, thinking that this is great for the slopes. Your transfer driver though is actually driving with gritted teeth, hoping that the vehicles in front don’t stop or they’ll probably have to pull over and put on the snow chains – a small matter of about ten minutes in the freezing cold, wet and dark whilst you sit inside with the heater on.
Miraculously, your transfer driver not only gets through the snow, but also knows where your accommodation is, (half way up a mountain on a small lane) and arrives with a smile. He unpacks your luggage, says thank you and you sometimes say thank you in return and turn gratefully to get inside where your chalet host is waiting to pander to your every need for the next week. Meanwhile, your driver gets back inside, consults the schedule again and announces the next stop. He’s moved you and your precious family safely through driving conditions you would never attempt to your holiday destination.
You don’t tip the transfer driver.
Scenario Two – About twenty minutes into the journey, one of your children suddenly throws up everywhere with no warning. About ten seconds later your other child vomits in sympathy. The transfer driver stops the van, gets everyone out, spends 15 minutes clearing up the mess whilst you deal with the children and apologises to the other passengers who really don’t want to get back in the van – no matter how much deodorant has been sprayed inside…
The journey continues in embarrassing silence and fortunately you are the first ones out. You get to your accommodation, hurry out of the minibus, mumble an apology (maybe) and get inside as quickly as possible.
You don’t tip the transfer driver.
See Scenario Two, except delete vomit and insert urine as one of your darlings has wet themselves and the van seat.
You don’t tip the transfer driver.
I could go on – there are dozens of scenarios from stopping helpfully at a supermarket, stopping at a bakery to get a much needed snack, stopping for the loo, stopping to be sick outside the minibus (a small victory for the driver). The point I’m making here is that your driver whose name you have forgotten is actually your unsung hero of your holiday.
And yet, and yet, you don’t tip the transfer driver.
I don’t get that – I really don’t!
You tip the waiters at the restaurants you eat in during your holiday.
You’ll even tip the taxi driver if you used one to take you to and from your UK airport.
You’ll tip the chalet hosts.
You’ll tip your ski guide or ski instructor.
In fact, you’ll tip just about everyone you meet this week, except your amazing, helpful, knowledgeable, understanding, patient and friendly transfer driver.
Let’s just consider their day for a minute. Whilst you were getting up at 3am, they were too. They got up, walked ten minutes to their minibus and spent 20 minutes clearing snow and ice from it – unpaid. They don’t start getting paid until they start moving. They picked up eight people from five different locations that morning in the dark, and drove them all to the airport. The research they did the night before to make sure they knew where all the first pick-ups were is unpaid. Having dropped off their passengers, they dash around to the arrivals car park, clean out the van, mark up their time sheets and walk to the arrivals hall. It’s been 4 hours since they got up and they might, just might have time for a quick coffee and a croissant.
Meanwhile, you’ve arrived at the airport, been taken to your accommodation by this lovely transfer driver, and you’ll not worry about transfers back to Geneva until the last day of the holiday.
Your transfer driver, meanwhile, will drop off the remaining passengers, find somewhere to have a wee, grab a sandwich if they’re lucky and head off to pick up their next group of departing passengers to make their second trip down to Geneva that day. By now, the weather has closed in and the traffic is awful. The passengers who were previously whining about their early pick up time are now panicking that they’ll miss their flights. Don’t worry though, the transfer driver knows a heap of short cuts and will get them to the airport in good time.
There, they will go through the same routine – clean the van, install in or pull out baby seats, walk to the arrivals hall where they’re hoping they might get a break before they turn around with their next set of passengers to go back up the mountain. Just think – you could be the last set of passengers that day and your flight was delayed two hours, but the driver was there, still smiling and still ready to move you safely to your holiday accommodation.
By now, your transfer driver has been working for eleven hours and has been driving for seven of those. All legal, all recorded and all above board, but laws don’t take account of driving in winter conditions in the Alps, or cleaning up vomit and urine in between journeys, or sitting in airports waiting for delayed flights or knowing where all your accommodation is located. These guys and girls are truly the unsung heroes of your holiday in the Alps.
So next time you walk away without tipping your transfer driver – remember this:
Their take home pay over the whole of the five-month season is likely to be less than the total cost of your week’s holiday. They are paying extortionate prices for rubbish, shared accommodation because that’s all they can afford and they are regularly and rightly randomly alcohol tested so that you can be sure that your driver is safe and will look after the three generations of your family in their van.
They range in age from 23 to 60. All have at least two years driving experience of vans or lorries; many hold full D1 driving licences and CPC cards. They are qualified professional drivers, not just a bunch of bums driving minibuses – even if some of them might look a little scruffy. Bear with them, their accommodation doesn’t have a washing machine and they have to do all their washing on one of their days off at the local launderette (So much for skiing every day off eh!).
None are doing it because they love driving. All of them are doing it because they love skiing or boarding or love living in the Alps. They work hard – bloody hard and, when appropriate, they play hard too. So next time you get out of your minibus, take moment thank them for getting you to your accommodation safely. Thank them for their patience. Apologise if one of your darlings has made a mess and perhaps, just perhaps, think about tipping them so they can enjoy a drink on you later that week.
These guys and girls are amazing people – many with extraordinary life stories and tales of fun. Talk to them, remember their name and look them in the eye when you arrive and thank your lucky stars that these guys exist – because if they didn’t, you’d be paying four hundred euros to a Swiss taxi driver to take you up the mountain and they won’t stray off the main roads to get you to your accommodation if there is snow on the roads. It’s a drop off in the centre of town and then you’ll have to make your own way at midnight to your accommodation two kilometres away. I’m not even sure how you would do this.
Oh and one final thought – if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like waiting and gets antsy with people when you have to – even though it’s your own fault for not checking the terms of your shared transfer – next time you come skiing, book a private transfer for a little more money and spare us all your whining. There’s nothing worse than a well-off person whining when they’ve realised that in trying to save a few quid, they’re now going to have to share a van with someone they don’t even know… Don’t worry though, your driver will still smile and be helpful and the people you’re sharing with are probably really nice folks.
Oh and one final thanks too – to those few folks who do tip your transfer driver. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We really appreciate it!
(Tim was a transfer driver in Morzine this season and this article represents a personal view and story!)