Podding along at Heathrow T5

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“Be careful what you wish for,” my favourite aunt used to caution. At long last I think I know exactly what she meant. Yesterday, for the first time ever, en route to NYC for today’s Truth or Dare by Madonna fragrance launch, I was upgraded. But contrary to what you might think, it didn’t actually enhance my travel experience. Of course, I’m not talking about an airline upgrade – oh no. I’ve been working in travel retail for sixteen years and, much to the amusement of various friends and colleagues who are frequently blessed, that still hasn’t happened, not even once. But yesterday, out of the blue, my car parking was upgraded.

Pod power: the only way to travel to check-in

As usual, I had pre-booked, snaffling a very good deal at Heathrow T5 business parking, which worked out only a fiver more expensive than long term (actually, given the price of diesel and the different distances involved, I probably saved some money). But when I pulled up outside business parking, I was flagged down by a very pleasant chap who informed me most politely that said car park was full.

“But it can’t be,” I wailed. “I pre-booked. Ages ago.” “Madam, [Madam!!! I must be officially old] please don’t worry,” he replied soothingly. “We’d like to offer you parking in Short Stay instead, for exactly the same price.”

On seeing my downcast face, he obviously thought I was perhaps a little slow on the uptake. “Short Stay is closer, Madam,” he added, very patiently. “You’ll get to the terminal much quicker.”

Well, yes. But sometimes gentlemen, speed isn’t everything. In my book, there’s only one thing that makes my invariably awful Essex-Heathrow drive bearable, and that’s a ride on the ULTra (Urban Light Transit) Personal Pod cars, which transport passengers and their luggage between the business car park and T5.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a Pod, you don’t know what you’re missing, trust me. They are fabulous. These futuristic, fully automated, battery-powered pods zoom around at up to 25mph on a special road network, depositing up to four passengers at the terminal in a matter of minutes. They are efficient and fun, and I defy anyone – even dour businessmen – not to arrive at check-in beaming after a trip in one. If I manage to get one to myself I usually pretend I’m in an episode of Dr Who. Seriously, what’s not to like?

I droop visibly, look longingly at the Pods on the other side of the barrier, turn my car around and park in Short Stay, as instructed. I walk to check-in within about three minutes, and begin the tiresome process of disrobing and unpacking my hand luggage to get through a busy security check, without the giggly memory of a Pod journey to distract me. I’m reminded of another famous saying, although my aunt can’t take the credit for this one. Perhaps it is better to travel hopefully than arrive. [Postscript: I cheer up after a bit of retail therapy, followed by a rather good glass of Sancerre. Now bring on Madonna!]

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