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Curacao Trip Report, Part 2: Car Rental

(If you’re keeping track, which you’re not, Part 1 was my tale of nearly missing our flight save for the help of an amazing gate agent).

Anyone who travels domestically and belongs to one of the car rental companies’ frequent rental programs is, in a word, spoiled (or spoilt, as the British say. I think the British say that. It’s not important…) Strolling up to your car, bypassing all of the nonsense and paperwork, and simply driving out of Pittsburgh’s airport is a delight. What’s there to complain about?

One of the interesting aspects of Curacao’s airport is that all of the rental car companies located there (Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc all have outposts on the island) have decided to take everything they’ve learned about car rental operations in the US and throw it out the window. They have devised a system that, as far as I can tell, has been created in a vacuum, free from any knowledge of how rental car companies work in any of their other 19,000 locations worldwide.

How, you may (or may not) be asking yourself, does the system work?

Good question.

First, you arrive in the non-air conditioned car rental counter area. I’m going to be a bit hypocritical here: whenever I hear about a new terminal opening in a developing country, I get a bit of nostalgia for the old-style terminals that still exist out there. Each new gleaming, vaguely similar terminal I’ve passed through makes me long for the days of the terminal-as-outpost, rather than terminal-as-mall. I once got to see this transformation in real time during a trip I took to Lihue, Kauai, in 1987, as we flew into the old Lihue terminal and departed 4 days later from the then-sparkling-new terminal at Lihue. Curacao (at least the rental car portion) is that old type of terminal — slightly crumbling and, like Curacao itself, ramshackle in an endearing way. The hypocritical part is that when you’re standing in the heat and humidity, waiting for the rental car theater to play itself out, I really, really just want a nice terminal with air conditioning.

I was third in line at the Budget counter, and while I mention Budget here specifically, the last time I was there I rented with National and they employed the exact same system. Following a 40 minute wait in line for the 3 people in front of me, I approached the counter. I’ll spare you those details, but we have a conversation, I fill out the requisite paperwork, and 15 minutes after I stepped up to the counter, I’m told to stand outside, where it’s raining, and wait for the car to be pulled around.

The car is not pulled around. Several other people have their cars pulled around. I track down an employee. They take a look at my papers. They ask me where the car is parked. I respond with a question of my own. Namely, how the hell would I know where the car is parked. The employee goes and gets the keys to my car. He walks around the parking lot hitting the alarm button on the car until he hears the alarm go off. He pulls the car up. We walk around the car together, inspecting it. The car was recently returned, so I have no idea why they don’t just have that piece of paper with the inspection from the previous person who returned the car. We circle the myriad dents in my Toyota Yaris and note that the tank is 3/8 full. I’m told I should return it 3/8 full. I say that the car also appears to be 3/8 full of sand, as they have not cleaned the car prior to renting it to me. The Budget staff member does not laugh. I ask if I also need to return it with the garbage that is on the floor. Also no ha ha from staffer. 55 minutes after I arrive at the car rental counter, I am free to drive off with my car.

The joke, though, is on me as the car alarm goes off every time I turn on the car for the next 5 days. Also one of the back seats won’t unlock with the remote. But, again – joke on me, as which door will not unlock seemingly alternates between the right and left sides.

I do gain an incredible satisfaction, though, when I return the car and do something I’ve always wanted to do: I simply left it in the middle of the parking lot with the keys in it. I intended to put the car into a space in the rental car lot but, shocker, there were no spaces available. At 7:15 am. So I simply left it in the middle of the lot. I’ve often dreamed of just leaving a car sitting in the middle of a lot when I couldn’t find a space. And this morning I accomplished that dream. And from what I know about Curacao, there is a 2008 Toyota Yaris still sitting, 23 hours later, in the middle of the rental car parking lot at the airport. Uncleaned.

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  1. Great post. Very funny. You need to write a humor travel column and get it syndicated.

  2. I agree with Chris. This is hilarious and you need to start a humor travel column!

  3. Million Mile Secrets

    Yes, the British would say “spoilt.” I learnt (not learned) British English in school and had to wear a white uniform to school each day. I had 10 separate uniforms because who in their right mind makes expects boys to wear white clothes and not get dirty?

    Glad you fulfilled your dream! :)

  4. I’ll do you one better. About 10 years ago, I had an equally horrible encounter with a car rental agency, and when it was time to return to the airport, I realized I didn’t have time to return the car. So I took a cab from where I’d had my last meeting, then called the rental agency to tell them their car was parked on a city street a few miles from the airport, with the keys under the mat. For all I know, it may still be there….

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