Travel agent Gary Jaussaud assumed the elderly customer on the phone was mistaken.
The caller told him she had dialed up the ride-hailing service Uber asking for a ride to Meadows Field Airport, but was turned down. Uber said it couldn't take her.
"I thought to myself, 'That doesn't sound right,'" said the senior agent at Kern Travel. "How can it be?"
Believe it. Uber drivers are prohibited from dropping off customers or picking them up at Meadows Field — for the time being — and so are drivers with the company's main ride-hailing competitor, Lyft.
The situation, however temporary, creates some real hassles for travelers. A driver for both services, Joel Hoffman, said he has witnessed passengers carrying their luggage a full quarter-mile, no sidewalk, all the way to Merle Haggard Drive just to catch a ride with one of the services.
"It's a heck of a walk," he said.
Airports across the country are dealing with the same problem, as ride-hailing services increasingly compete with taxis in what had been an established process of bidding for the right to ferry air travelers.
"They're all grappling with this," said Joel Bacon, spokesman for the American Association of Airport Executives. "It's an emerging field and a different operating model for ground transportation providers."
In Kern County, the problem arises from the fact that two local taxi services, A One Taxi and Blue Star Taxi, have secured exclusive rights for a limited time to operate at Meadows Field. They won a competitive bidding process called a request for proposals, paid a nominal fee to the county and can legally expect other services will stay off their airport turf.
But ride-hailing companies are not exactly taxis, a fact the county is on the verge of legitimizing as it negotiates a deal with Uber that would charge drivers $2 per trip to serve passengers going in and out of Meadows Field. If the discussions are successful, the same deal would be extended to Lyft, said the county's interim airports director, Teresa Hitchcock.
The main reason the county doesn't let ride-hailing drivers come and go as they please at Meadows Field is insurance. County officials said they want to make sure vehicles are covered in case of an accident.
The City of Bakersfield does not share such concerns. At the Amtrak station downtown, the city has established an area where Uber and Lyft drivers are permitted to pick up and drop off customers, as long as they don't leave their vehicle.
"We have never banned or restrained Uber, etc., from providing service to Amtrak," City Manager Alan Tandy said by email.
Jaussaud prefers that approach. He said the remotely located Meadows Field can ill afford to complicate travel.
"It's underserved by the air carriers because it's not always convenient," he said. "It needs all the access it can get."
The owner of A One Taxi, Armen Akopyan, disagrees.
He carries $2 million in general liability insurance, plus $1 million for car accidents. Having abided by county rules, he wants Uber and Lyft to do the same. But sometimes they don't, he said.
"They're not allowed, but they're doing it anyway," Akopyan said.
People familiar with the situation said some ride-hailing drivers do, indeed, violate the rules — and run the risk of being cited by the county. But sometimes it may simply result from confusion.
Hoffman said Uber allows him to drop customers at Meadows Field, but Lyft does not. Neither company permits him to pick up customers there, he said.
Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment.
Hitchcock said the county's first attempt at a resolution was to set up a "geo-fencing" system that would allow the airport to define its boundaries electronically. But the system ended up costing so much money that Kern officials opted to hold off and just negotiate a placeholder agreement with the ride-hailing services.
"We are moving forward with the negotiations on the Uber agreement, which will renew annually until a geo-fencing system can be installed," she wrote by email. "At that time, it will be necessary to renegotiate the agreement."
Hoffman said he was unaware ride-hailing services aren't allowed at the airport. But he knows there are strict rules, because Lyft detected when he dropped off one of its customers at Meadows Field. He was quickly notified of a violation, and if he does it again, he has been warned, his commission with Lyft will be canceled.
His hope is that the county and the two ride-hailing services come to an agreement soon.
"I hope it gets resolved," he said.