Heathrow Airport 2011
Many of us are well familiar with wandering blearily into Heathrow after having been awake for the past million hours. While Big Ben is donging half past 7 am London time, our eastern US alarms aren't due to go off for another five hours. We are awake during our prime REM time and, stupid as it is and sounds-- we're about to (legally and on the 'wrong side ' of the road) drive a car.
I like to think I am getting better at it as I get older. No longer do I drive into oncoming traffic endangering everyone in visible sight as I head out of Glasgow Airport, nor does Tom book the Irish rental car for 10 am when it is 5:30 we arrive in Dublin. We both know that while we can manage a couple of hours drive-time, we'll need a serious break before our brains fade.
That we are bound to come to words before we are actually on an M Road, is a dead cert. But--we have a plan. I am now the doyen of car hire and I book with the same companies each time because A: I have priorities and B: I am cheap. Free extra driver*, free mileage, fast pass and a quick shuttle --all aces. Currently a fan of National (EuropeCar) because they have all of the above plus a free-for-all choose your own car plan, it usually goes like this:
1. Deplane and spend either a short or long time being admitted to the UK. Pass go and trundle downstairs to find bag* and shuffle it through Customs on the hairpin bend that leads to Arrivals.
2. Enter Arrivals and do some necessary and immediate humdrum tasks which include pushing the luggage trolley through legions of travelers with thousands of bags and millions of small screaming children who have been met by all of their friends and relations and are headed for the car park whose elevators are annoyingly causing a heavy back up right in front of door. Exit the terminal to shuttle bus*.
3. As Bus has just left, wait. Discover that luggage trolley has no brake and spend the wait time keeping it captive as it tries to escape down the peculiar incline just next to the bus stop. Watch everyone else hauling bags, kids and jittery trolleys.
4. Load bags into bus and hold breath as bus negotiates Terminal gauntlet allowing riders to be spit out onto the Perimeter Road with huge jets hovering just overhead. Get out. Fast. Be First One in to Car Hire Agency as partner deals with luggage. Produce drivers' licenses, reservation and Big Smile.
5. Wave loaded -policy -car- rental Amex card* at agent and Decline Additional Insurance, crossing fingers that it actually works should you actually hit something. Get the nice guy with the laid- back attitude even though you are American, who won't remind you more than thrice that you really should take the super deluxe no worries insurance• coverage for an additional million pounds a day.
6. Grab the paperwork and dash into parking lot to Choose Car.
Although I love this part because it's FUN to choose your own car, this is where we sadly lose key time and mutual empathy. Tom always lets me decide as I also insist on driving. It's not that Tom is not a fabulous and trustworthy individual, it's just this little here-and-gone thing he has for taking his eyes off the road. So we wander what's on offer (usually strange cars no one anywhere else will ever drive) and choose one. We load our gear in and I sit in the driver's seat adjusting mirrors and wrestling with the handbrake• and stuff until I see a Better Car and we unload the gear and reload it and drive around the parking lot for a while until we remember to go that way to get to the exit booth with the green light and we Get the green light and Pass Go to the Real World, or at least back to the Perimeter Road*.
Leaving the Car Hire is so much easier than it used to be-- if you do it right. Years ago, a real test of jet lag was enduring passenger map- reading aloud at high volume,("Left! Right! Stay Straight!") through five or six poorly-signed, seriously many-laned roundabouts that trickily dumped you right back where you started. Now you can drive fairly effortlessly (except for that faux turn into airport employee parking) on to the M4, M25 or headed towards your ultimate M, A or B.
Bingo, you're there, and it's just steering, getting your M-legs and beginning to play the lanes (left slow, middle travel, right pass). Relaxing to BBC morning news enjoy the scenery which actually has fields and cows, vistas and Sights to See placed strategically by the motorway for your driving pleasure.
Car Hire Sanity Savers
Heathrow Car Hire: Heathrow terminals have been playing hop scotch as each is upgraded but car hire still requires a bus ride. Enjoy it! Look for the Concorde!
Gatwick Car Hire :"As part of Gatwick’s £1 billion investment programme we’re transforming North Terminal. Our new multi storey car park 6 opened on Wednesday 20 April 2011, ahead of schedule. Car rental desks will be open on level 1 of the terminal (The Avenue). Take the lifts adjacent to International Arrivals and you will clearly see all car rental desks located on level 1. Car rental staff will then direct you to the cars. The new location has direct access to the terminal, contemporary surroundings and all cars are parked undercover."
Heathrow Arriving Flights are posted on baggage hall monitors but grab a trolley first. Many travelers do not know that many airlines allow an extra bag "free" for sports equipment. Your sport might require a diving suit or motorbike gear, check to see if it gets a free ride.
Free Extra Driver: NEVER pay for this, I mean that's just really dumb if you think about it -only one person can drive a car at a time, so why pay for two? Many "business" elite programs which offer perks like free driver are available free through AARP or AAA. Additionally free drivers are often available as a freemium if you Google car rental promos but make sure yours applies to UK rentals as well.
•Some credit card companies offer a for-a-fee per use additional coverage for complete coverage when hiring abroad--except in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and a few other countries where they'd lose their shirts. Check to see if your card offers primary car rental coverage as secondary means colliso
n charges go to your own insurance company.
Getting to Know Your Car: As everything is on the opposite side of the car, don't get crazy over not being able to find the handbrake. Stick your head out the window and ask for help.
Leaving the Car Hire Lot: It is OKAY to drive around the car hire lot while you learn how the car works and practice right side steering on the left side of the road. This may well avoid wrong way and the all-t00-frequent post-car-hire exit booth sound of passenger screaming at driver, "You Idiot!" Ouch.