Hoppa-ing Mad

“I’d like to go to the XYZZY hotel please.”

“Really? That’s gonna cost you at this time of night.”

“What? Ten o clock? Look, I’m just tired and want to get to bed.”

“We’ll if you insist, sir. You seen how much a litre of diesel costs these days?”

Ever since I got stung by a cab driver for the best part of £25, I’ve vowed never to take a taxi from Heathrow Airport ever again. So today, for my trip from the Underground station to the Novotel I’ve decided to use a shuttle bus.

Don’t get me wrong here – this isn’t about being a Scrooge. What I save on needless cab fares I put towards a First Class upgrade on the train, although even it’s advantages aren’t always quite what I expect. Yesterday’s trip to London was accompanied by staff in the Lounge openly discussing a colleague’s illness, in some gory detail. Call me a snob, but I can encounter that for free at the Broadmarsh Bus Station.

In more civilised countries, the big hotel chains lay on courtesy coaches. After all, there’s usually nowhere else to go other than the terminal and the place you’ll be staying. Yet this common courtesy still alludes most UK airports, leaving me with Hobson’s Choice – the Hotel Hoppa.

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If you’re a bus spotter, you’ll have noticed that the picture above isn’t of National Express’s most modern vehicle. But it illustrates the backward booking system still operated by the company in 2013.

“Return from £7!” boasts the website. Unless you show up on the day, when they’ll charge you £1 more. “Book online to save money!” enthuses the page. Ok, I will. Oh, hang on – I can save a pound but you’ll charge me a one pound booking fee! And then, a tab to insist that “you must be able to print off your ticket.” It’s the 21st Century. I have a smart phone. Just send me a booking confirmation!

What’s more, they also try to add an extra quid for travel insurance. What? They’re going to lose your luggage on a bus to your hotel?

Then again, stranger things happened to me in Malta.

On the plus side, I’m in no hurry to get anywhere today, so it’s the slow tube train to Heathrow from Central London – always a hilarious exercise in Laughing At Foreigners, as they attempt to squeeze a family set of luggage into the Underground. Still, they should be grateful that escalators and luggage-sized barriers are provided, which is more than can be said of grander places like New York.

It seems that airport hotels are doing more and more these days to try and take your mind off their windswept locations. From the car park of the Heathrow Novotel you can see and hear the M4 motorway rising unmajestically from the perimeter road. In the distance is the hulk of the Holiday Inn. But inside, they’ve done quite a neat job on the design.

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That’s the view from my room, and fortunately there’s a good bit of double glazing separating me from what’s likely to be a much busier restaurant a little later. Although I’ll be avoiding it thanks to a tip from the bus driver.

“See that lane down there? The one with no street lights? Leads straight to the pub. The Plough. Don’t bother paying them hotel prices – you’ll get a nice steak in there.”

I think I might…

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