Hurricanes and Heathrow Pods

Pod transport to Terminal 5, Heathrow

Felixstowe Suffolk UK

Clive and I were supposed to arrive in New Jersey this past weekend. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, cancelled flights, and a multitude of family conversations and decisions, we never got there.

Amidst two days of tears and frustration, we did discover something new and cool: the transport pods to and from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and its Business Parking lot.

On prior travels, we had noticed these driverless, futuristic-looking little pods, moving on elevated tracks around Terminal 5. This time, we rode in them.

The Heathrow Pods

By Terminal 5 Parking Pod, Heathrow Airport

Clive discovered what we now call ‘Pod Parking’ via his usual great trip planning and Internet research, specifically when he looked at options for long-term parking.

Pod parking, or ‘Terminal 5 Business Parking’ as it is officially known, was easy to use. The cost was only £12/day because we booked ahead on the Internet, competitive with other long-term parking. We drove through the ‘Business Parking’ gate and our number (license) plate was read automatically. After parking in lot ‘B’, we walked a few steps to a waiting pod, followed instructions on the screen to open the door and start the ‘journey’, and enjoyed the 2-minute ride to Terminal 5.

The pods hold up to four people, maybe fewer if anyone has a huge suitcase. The only drawback we could think of might be if it were pouring rain, but even then, the distance from the pod station to the farthest parking space looked much less than the distance from a typical mall to spaces in the parking lot.

One of the Pods seen from the parking lot

As for the rest of our (non) trip, it just didn’t turn out the way we envisioned it would.

It Was Supposed to Be Different

Our cancelled five-day ‘weekend’ was supposed to have been a new-and-improved way to visit my mother and family in the U.S. Now that we’re settled, more or less, in England (our ‘Top Ten’ activities are still happening — see Parts 1-5 here and 6-10 here), our plan was to try a shorter visit, and presuming it worked, replicate the approach and visit more frequently in the future.

For this short trip, our intention was also to do nothing other than simply be with my mother, without the often-additional stress of holidays and/or birthdays and other large family events, which have become increasingly difficult for her to handle. We were excited to travel with only a backpack, as we recently did with Paris (we’re fortunate to be able to leave some clothes and toiletries at my mother’s). And we were looking forward to going to Heathrow the night before departure, to avoid early morning peak hour traffic — delays are not uncommon on London’s M25 ring road — and to having a relaxing evening before flying out the next morning.

It was all set.

What Happened Instead

Pods ready and waiting at Heathrow

We knew the situation was dicey, but hoped we’d arrive in New Jersey before Irene worked her way up the coast. We spent five hours on the M25 because it was the Friday afternoon of a bank holiday weekend (similar to Labor Day weekend in the U.S.), so it wasn’t quite the relaxing trip we’d hoped for. We listened to hurricane forecasts on BBC Radio 2, pondered our options, and reassured each other, ‘This is why we’re going the evening before — so we don’t have to worry about delays on flight day.’

After a long, mostly-awake overnight with many phone calls back and forth to my mother and son in the U.S. and Clive tracking flight status online, all flights were ultimately cancelled. Taking a Pod back to the parking lot was the only thing that made us smile. We felt very Jetsons and the track reminded me of the old New Jersey Palisades Park Wild Mouse ride — though the Pod is very smooth and calm.

Wild Mouse track? No, Heathrow Pod track

Regrouping

I’ve learned from experience that these things happen when you and your family are miles, and oceans, apart. We’re thankful we didn’t have a life-and-death situation, and that loved ones up and down the U.S. east coast are safe and well.

If nothing else, we are pleased to have discovered Pod Parking and to know it’s a cost-effective, easy-to-use option for future trips.

Now we’re regrouping and booking flights to the U.S. for a later date. In the immediate future is a trip to England’s Scilly Isles, about which we’re very excited. I hope storms stay away, since we’re taking a ferry from Penzance to the island of St Mary’s. No pod parking options for this one!

Clive at a Pod station

Cheers for now and stay well, everyone.

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14 Responses

  1. Much better than the air trains at other airports which are usually crowded and jerk to start or stop throwing passengers and luggage everywhere. I reckon the next thing they’ll do on the pods is have a nice cup of tea waiting when you get off.

  2. Hi there!! I just happened to open up my Google Reader tonight for the first time in a really long while, and saw that you posted! I’m so sorry the hurricane messed with your travel schedule, but I’m glad everyone in your family is okay. Thanks for sharing about those pods, too. I think I am still trying to figure out exactly how they work, but the entire idea is a really good one. It’s so Jetsons! I like Bruce’s idea about there being tea at the end of the pod ride, too. It’s nice to read an update from you Carolyn. 🙂 Looks like I have missed a couple of previous posts as well, but I’m afraid I have to hit the sack soon. I’m trying to not stay online too late at night, and it’s just gone 11 pm now. I’ll be back soon, though. Hello to Clive, and I hope you enjoy the Scilly Islands! (I have no idea where those are — I’m going to Google them real quick before I shut things down for the night.) Take care!

  3. You’re coming to Cornwall? How about stopping to see us on your way to Penzance. I’m not sure how you’re arriving in Cornwall, but you’ll go right past us.

    Sorry about your US travel plan change. John loves the Scilly Isles, but I haven’t been there yet.

    • Oops, I confused the Scilly Isles with Lundy Island which John did really enjoy. He has not been to the Scilly Isles yet.

      We’d still love to meet in person if possible and if not this trip then maybe some other time.

  4. Hello Carolyn & Clive,
    I was so sorry to read about your vancelled trip. It must have been very frustrating, but what a small consolation to have discovered those cute pods!
    That is sooo cool!
    Hey, I think that the next trip will be the best, because you are catching up for all the lost time! Have a love time in Scilly.I am looking forward to discovering these islands through your future post & pics.

    Big hugs to you both.
    xoxo

  5. Bruce, greetings and great to ‘see’ you here — yes we have also ridden the ‘Sky Train’ at various U.S. airports but never had a cup of tea in them! The pods are very cool and who knows – maybe someday.

    Paris Karin – hello there! Not sure exactly where you are at the moment but hope you’re having a great summer (and getting some sleep whenever you sign off the Internet!). Yes the pods are extremely Jetsons!

    Elizabeth – would be so great to meet you and John in person! Will send an e-mail about this – as you say if not this time then definitely in the future (I’ve never been to Cornwall and am eager to see it!).

    Barb, thanks for your sympathy. I’m sure we will be making up for lost time on the next trip! Hope all is well with you.

    Cheers all.

  6. Hello Caroline and Clive .. such a shame about your cancelled flights, but at least your family were safe and well.

    I love the POD.. never heard about it before ..might have to have a go too.

    I love how you are settling into your new way of life, .. .. Oh how great it would be if you could meet up with Elizabeth and John.. I have yet to meet her , one day 🙂

    Take care
    anne

  7. Sorry about Irene interfering with your plans. What a drag, but hope you’ll be able to re-do that visit to your mother sometime soon!

  8. Those pods are really cool looking. It’s so nice that airports are starting to use more and more of those unmanned transportation vehicles. Better than a bus I think.

  9. but what happened in Paris? Fill us in on your first backpack trip.

  10. Phil, Paris was great — maybe in the middle of winter I’ll post why going to Paris in summer is wonderful (and not the no-no some people say it is …).

    In the meantime, we are off to the Scilly Isles so you might be hearing more about England next!

    Cheers and thanks for stopping by.

  11. Fascinating about the Pod Parking. Thanks for the tip. Shall look forward to reading your interesting blog.

  12. Susie, hello and so pleased to ‘see’ you! The pods are definitely fascinating and worth a go — really easy and convenient.

    Thanks for visiting and happy writing – love your Paris books!

    Cheers.

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