Travel Tales: My £120 taxi race to catch a plane near London

Taxi 1

It’s Monday morning and I wake up early in a holiday cottage on Haylings Island. A small island in the south of England near Portsmouth, where I have been representing the Welsh national team in petanque over the weekend. I pack up my stuff and walk sleepy-eyed to the reception area where I wait for my pre-booked taxi to the local train station. I will be travelling to Spain this afternoon, to visit my girlfriend in Madrid. And I have made sure to book everything with good “buffer time” to make it south without any stress. But as we all know… things doesn’t always work out as planned.

After a short chat and exchange of travel tips with the taxi driver, I make it to the small train station of Havant, from where I will continue my journey on tracks. A few pendlers in suits holding take-away coffees are waiting around the platform, ready for another week at the office. I grab a coffee too and praise myself for having good time. My train arrives a bit ealier than expected, but I don’t give it much thought, and take my seat to rub shoulders with business men burried in their phones.

Taxi 5

As I approach London from the south I will have to change trains about half way, to make the the connecting train to Gatwick Airport. So after a while I start keeping an eye out for recognizable names on the stations we pass, but nothing looks familiar at all. We pass station after station and nothing makes sense, and I start shifting uncomfortably in my seat.

It’s now already much later than I should have been changing and I realise I must have taken the wrong train from Havant… and almost at the same time it sounds from the speakers: “NEXT STOP, LONDON CENTRAL”. What!?? No, no no.. this can’t happen! Not today! I’m only supposed to go to Madrid for a few days, and from there I have a flight booked back home to Denmark.

I start to panic a bit, but trying to keep calm while considering my options. What the h… do I do? As the train pulls into the station in central London, I pick up my heavy luggage and make my way to the door, while my brain spins to find a solution. I’m ready to sprint to the front of the station to find a taxi. But as soon as I exit the train and start running along the platform, I see to my horror that I have to use my ticket to leave the platform area (like in some metro systems). And as my ticket was clearly not meant to take me all the way to London, it obviously won’t work here. I won’t even try.

Taxi 3

So without thinking much about the possible consequences, and in true desperation, I grab my luggage firmly and make my escape over the ticket-system, hoping no guard will notice this, as I have no time to explain or pay an additional ticket for that matter. I don’t even look back, but run towards the taxis outside, confronting the nearest one and letting the driver know what’s at stake here. “How much to take me to Gatwick and how long will it take?”. The driver looks at me while quickly making his calculations and says: “It will probably be around £100 and I can’t promise that you will make your plane”.

Within a few seconds I decide to take my chance. I mean, what is the alternative? Having to inform my girlfriend I won’t make it anyway, miss out on my flight from Madrid to Denmark too, and having to find a new ticket from London. No way. “Okay, I’ll take the chance” I tell the driver, and he throws my bags in the backseat and steps on the pedal.

Taxi 2

Another problem is, this is still quite early on a Monday morning, which means heavy traffic in and out of London. Very heavy, but the driver seems keen on the challenge. I try to catch my breath, wipe the sweat of my brow and text my girlfriend to inform her of the risk of me not making it anyway. I look nervously out the front window at the slow-moving traffic. It doesn’t look promising.

The engine of the taxi sounds overloaded after we make it through the worst density of London and out on more open roads. I keep looking for signs indicating a nearby airport, but nothing, and as time goes I begin to lose my hope. What am I gonna do? How much will a new ticket be? I see the meter counting towards the predicted price of £100… and pass it. My heart sinks. This is it.

But suddenly, there it is – a sign to Gatwick Airport! And the driver confirms our progress. “Almost there mate”. And I gotta give it to him, he has done a great job indeed, while trying to stay within the speed limits. When we finally pull up in front of the airport, I almost feel sorry for not being able to let him know how this “Mission Impossible” ends.

Taxi 4

I grab my luggage and run towards the check-in area, only to find a small queue still waiting to check in for the same flight. YES, I made it! I take my place in the queue and try to smile as relaxed as possible when I hand over my passport and papers to the lady at the counter. I can’t almost believe this. Actually I suddenly have a spare 15-20 minutes to grab a well-deserved drink. I thought so… Until another panic-attack sets in, when I look at the boarding screens and find that my plane is at the gate furthest away from here, predicting a 20 minute commute. Are you kidding me?

I forget about the drink, grab my hand-luggage and start running towards my gate… and when I finally make it and take my seat in the plane, I am sweating like crazy. I bet people around me think I’m horrified of flying, and that this is my first therapy-session. But I don’t care. I made it. Maybe with £120 less in my account – but with a good story to tell.

Have you got your own story about almost missing – or missing – your flight?
Let me know in the comments below…

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By Brian Schæfer Dreyer