You would think that at the world’s busiest airport for international passengers, London Heathrow, with flights around the clock, there would be reliable subway service early enough in the morning to catch the hundreds of dawn departures. Not so on Sundays…when the first Piccadilly Line Underground train does not arrive until 7:50a. Budget travelers be warned.
My wife and I were in London over the weekend, visiting her sister, and we booked an early flight back to Germany yesterday morning. Too early, apparently, to use the Tube. Her sister lives in the Kensington neighborhood close to Hammersmith station so rather than take a 30GBP Uber we figured the 30-minute ride to T5 on the subway would be no problem and save 24 GBP.
We arrived at Hammersmith about 5:45a for our 7:50a, planning to have breakfast in the BA lounge before our flight, and saw that the Underground entrances inside the station were closed until six. No problem, right? We stopped for some coffee.
But when 6:00a came around, the man who opened the gates took part in what was probably a normal ritual to the dozens of people standing around with suitcases. “If you’re trying to get to Heathrow, the first train is not till 7:20a!”. A collective groan arose, but he directed us upstairs to the bus terminal, where the N9 night bus would be momentarily departing.
We darted upstairs but the bus was just pulling out and the driver refused to stop. Another bus (carriage, as the English call them) was not due for 25 minutes and even if the journey had been made in 50-minutes to T5 as posted, it would have meant a 7:10a arrival for a 7:50a flight.
My wife and I discussed chancing it, but ultimately decided to call an Uber…but before I could several people spoke up wanting to share a cab. Oh, how I hate London cabbies.
We agreed to split a cab with an Australian tourist going to France, a Somali-looking guy, and a British businessman traveling to Hong Kong. I said to wait a minute while I summoned Uber, but no one else had heard of it and the Brit was already darting for the cab stand.
Fine, a black cab fare split four ways would still be cheaper than Uber. We get in and a portly old man quotes a price of 55GBP. Fine, let’s go. The Somali backs out – too much money. Fine, still cheaper than Uber. Let’s go.
A few KMs away, the price changes to 85GBP. Yup – the Aussie had to go to T1 and we and the Brit were headed to T5. So much for saving money, but you’ve got us…we’ll pay by card.
Credit card machine “not working” he insisted because he was borrowing the cab overnight from a friend. I figure not accepting card must be a violation of the law and it is why I hate cabbies of all stripes — especially when compared to Uber drivers.
Traffic was non-existent at this early hour and we made it to T5 with plenty of time to spare — we even had a half hour in the lounge. The final meter read 72GBP, a little better than 85 quid.
So four things–
1. The Piccadilly Line Tube currently does not run early on weekends – you’ll have to give yourself extra time to use the N9 Night Bus if you are trying to get to LHR for an early flight.
2. There are plans for round-the-clock service beginning in 2015.
3. Even on Sundays, the Heathrow Express from London Paddington commences service at 5am.
4. I hope Uber and the eventual 24-hour subway service puts all the black cabs out of business!
I don’t mean to sound vindictive on that last point, but this little anecdote proves exactly why there is growing market for Uber and other ride sharing services and that demand will continue to grow as more find out about it.
Heck, my wife had no idea what Uber was. The one time we used Uber during the London trip she was left scratching her head as I jumped out of the cab without handing the driver any money.
“Don’t you have to pay him?” she asked. Already done – automatically – and I earn credit card points for it too.
Use my Uber invite code uberLiveandLetsFly to sign up for Uber and enjoy $10 in free credit (and I’ll also get $10). Click here to sign up.