Body odor is among 52 criteria that officials at San Diego International Airport use to judge taxi drivers. Cabbies say that smacks of prejudice and discrimination. For years, inspectors with the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority have run down their checklist for each cabbie—proof of insurance, functioning windshield wipers, adequate tire treads, good brakes. Drivers are graded "pass," "fail," or "needs fixing." Anyone who flunks the smell test is told to change before picking up another customer. Leaders of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego union say the litmus perpetuates a stereotype that predominantly foreign-born taxi drivers smell bad. A 2013 survey of 331 drivers found 94% were immigrants and 65% were from East Africa.
An airport authority rep says there is "no standard process" to testing and that only about three drivers fail to get a passing grade each year. The airport authority says it's enforcing a policy of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System that prohibits foul-smelling drivers and promotes regular bathing. It also says the practice is about satisfying customers. The executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, however, says the policy is "dehumanizing." Inspectors have been smelling drivers for years. There was no controversy until a union employee waded through a 568-page airport board agenda and noticed the checklist, which had been approved in July for revisions unrelated to the body odor test.