For many years the airports of Eastern Europe had a really bad reputation for taxi crime. I'm not suggesting that every furtive bloke with a moustache and a leather jacket who sidled up to new arrivals, whispering "You need taxi?" between clenched teeth was going to drive you down a dark alley, bang you over the head and steel your luggage, but it's very likely that some 'creative' routing would have been the order of the day. Even now, when you arrive at Budapest's airport, there are large posters telling you not to do business with the 'tash and jacket' brigade, to use only the authorised taxi rank outside the building or the airport minibus shuttle.
The average first timer in any new city is at their most vulnerable as they step through the arrivals door and into the terminal. Thanks to Hungary not being in the Euro, our first task was to find money and our second to find transport, and whilst I stood in the line for the ATM, I spotted the airport shuttle counter and sent my husband to find out how it worked. He returned to tell me it would cost 4900 HUF (about £14) and take 30-40 minutes. I wasn't sure if this reflected a really long distance or a very slow vehicle but when I returned with him to the counter, the assistant said that a taxi would be around 7000 HUF and the minibus would leave in about 15 minutes. We booked two places, paid in our newly changed cash and took seats nearby to wait for the driver.
When the driver arrived, he collected our paperwork, loaded our bags and set off for the city. We passed a railway station a few minutes from the terminal and I'd read previously that this was where you could get a cheap train ticket into the city. If I'd been really intent on saving money, I guess I'd have figured it out, but I'd not done my homework on where the train station was in relation to our hotel.
We took a large minibus with a total capacity of about 16 people. The vehicle was in good condition and was comfortable. A group of people we'd seen on our flight – including one really gobby woman who my husband said "Must be a teacher, just listen to how she's ordering everyone around" were on the same bus with us and were loud and deeply annoying. If you step off an EasyJet flight ready to commit violent acts against annoying people, I recommend to work out how to get the train or to pay for a taxi.
The journey was smooth and gave us a good first glimpse of the city as well as helping us to spot a few places we wanted to visit as we passed them in the minibus. Fortunately we were the first drop-off from the minibus and our total transfer time, door to door, was only a little over half an hour. Obviously individual transfer times will differ depending on the destination, the traffic and whether you are the first or last to be dropped.
If you want to pre-book your transfer, you can do so on at www.airportshuttle.hu Checking the price online for our transfer, this should have cost 4311 HUF, a couple of pounds less than we paid when booking at the airport. Had we realised how good the service would be, we really should have ordered return journeys as there are substantial savings available if you pay for both journeys at the same time. For example the online price for our return would have been 7911 HUF.
For our return to the airport I booked online, receiving email confirmation within a few seconds of completing the booking. Since I had no access to a printer, I emailed back to ask if I needed to have paperwork for the driver. I was politely informed that it wouldn't be necessary, but I should make a note of the reservation code to show. Our confirmation gave us a pick up time of 18.25.
Our driver turned up on the dot of 18.25, loaded our bags, then drove us to another hotel to pick up another couple and then took us to the airport. It took about 35 minutes in total, including the pick up of the other passengers. Once we got to the airport the driver took us inside so he could confirm with the desk that we'd prepaid since we didn't have a voucher. For those who don't like to pay online, I strongly suspect that most hotel reception desks can pre-book a pick up for you but you'll then have to pay your hotel up-front in cash (and I would expect it to cost a little more as there's probably some commission to be paid).
The minibus shuttle offers a cheaper alternative to taking a taxi and a more convenient door to door service for those who can't face trying to figure out Budapest's public train system. At the time of our visit, the exchange rate was approximately 350 HUF to the Pound.