Eric Fletcher, 53, has been in the driver’s seat since he finished college. Born in London, he spent a portion of this youth in the United States when his family moved to Paterson, New Jersey. After high school and college, he began working as a chauffeur at Quality Limousine and Air Brook Limo services.
“My first VIP was chauffeuring Bernard King, a well-known basketball player. After a few years, I passed my (commercial driver’s license) and started working for New Jersey Transit, driving buses,” said Fletcher.
In 1994, he moved back to the United Kingdom because he “wanted a new life.” Shortly after arriving in the U.K., he took his passenger service vehicle (PSV) driver test. After he passed, he was offered a job as a coach driver. “Bear in mind that here in England we call our charter buses ‘coaches,’” he said.
He’s been driving coaches in the U.K. since 1997. Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Fletcher to talk to him about why he loves driving a motorcoach, his career highs and lows, and his passion for the business.
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
My biggest tip was £2,800 (British pounds). In the U.K., we do a lot of Chinese passengers. Normally, on the Chinese tours, we get £2 per day per person so if you have, let’s say, 40 passengers, that’s £80 per day, and if you’re on a six-day tour, you’re making £480 in tips. So, on this particular tour, I had 40 passengers and, at the end of my six-day tour, the guide handed me my tips of £480. Then surprisingly the passengers in charge of the group handed me an envelope when I opened it it was €3,000 (euros) — that’s about £2800 U.K.
I did work hard for this one, with 40 plus suitcases to load day in and day out.
What’s the strangest or most bizarre group you’ve driven?
I had a coach half full for a party night, some 20-plus scantily clad women in my coach. I was driving up to London and trying to stay focused on the road.
How did you become a driver?
I became a driver back in New Jersey, on New Jersey Transit, driving the No. 171 New York bus from New Jersey to the New York Port Authority.
What are your previous careers?
My previous career was as a busboy and dishwasher at Red Lobster in Paramus, New Jersey.
What’s your favorite and/or least favorite destination and why?
Venice, Italy, is so beautiful. I’ve been there several times with passengers. I love the Grand Canal.
From your perspective in the driver’s seat, what’s your favorite bus feature?
My favorite bus feature is Wi-Fi and satellite navigation.
The best compliment you’ve received?
When I was driving eight airline pilots through central London in rush hour, and one of them said, “Man, I don’t know how you handle this 40-plus-foot bus around these narrow lanes.”
What’s your funniest travel story?
When I put on fake thick reading glasses that made my eyes so big and the look on my passengers’ faces was like, “No, he ain’t driving us if he can’t see.”
What’s your best piece of advice for a newbie?
Be yourself. Don’t panic if you make a wrong turn. And do a little research on the places you take your passengers so you don’t rely 100% on satellite navigation.
What’s your favorite bus to drive and why?
The Mercedes Tourismo. Not sure if you have them in the U.S., but they drive like a car.
What’s your career highlight?
As an international tour driver, I have visited many European countries in 20 years of driving as an experienced group leader.
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