Riding the Heathrow Pod

Heathrow Pod



4.0/5 Pros

  • Cool technology
  • Comfortable space in the pods
  • Reliable function Cons

  • Very bumpy ride
  • Higher speed only at a limited sector

The Heathrow Express, the Elizabeth Line or the good, old Piccadilly Line – there are many transport options to get to London Heathrow Airport (LHR).  Some passengers may also arrive by bus or coach or by car. A very unique way to get to the airport, at least to Terminal 5, however, is the Heathrow Pod, a semi-automated personal rapid transit system. I recently checked it out and had some fun – here are my thoughts.


Heathrow Pod – Network & Fees

The Heathrow Pod is coming with three stations. One of them is located at the Heathrow Terminal 5 car park at the very end of the second floor. The Pod Parking Lot is having two stations, A and B. Despite the screenshot below, station A is rather on the West of the parking lot and station B is rather on the East. If you park your car at Heathrow Pod Parking Terminal 5, the pod transfer is included in your parking fee. The total network is 2.4 miles, there is a total of 21 vehicles.

Additionally, there is an exception for the Thistle London Heathrow Terminal 5 hotel. It is the only hotel, for which you officially use the pod transfer from Terminal 5 as well. The hotel charges each way with 7 GBP. This is controlled by a number you receive to open a gate between the parking lot and the hotel grounds. That is the only spot where – during my visit – any authentication for the usage of the transfer was checked in any way.


Heathrow Pod – Technology

The Heathrow Pod is based on the ULTra technology by the British engineering company Ultra Global PRT. Heathrow Pod is currently their only public available, operating version of their personal rapid transit system. The vehicles are 3.7 meters long, 1.5 wide and 1.8 meters high. This also means that you have to mind your head while entering. The maximum speed is 40 km/h. However, most of the time, the pods are significantly slower. They load their batteries mostly in one of the parking lots o the station. This means that even though a pod is parking right in front of you, it might not be available.

The roads on which the pods are traveling look like roads. However, there is a strict one-way system so that the operation is rather like being on a rail-driven device. There is just a rather limited part of the whole system where a pod may approach you in the opposite direction on another track. The pods can also climb up hills. The maximum payload of one car is 500kg. One ride is about five minutes


Heathrow Pod – The Ride

In order to start a ride from one of the stations, you go to a control terminal and order one by giving your destination on the touch screen. Obviously, Terminal 5 station is larger (and also more posh) than the parking lot stations. Once a pod is available, gates are opening as well as the doors of the vehicle and you may enter. Once inside, you close the door manually (by a button) and start the ride. Typically, the pod is doing a short run backward to get out of his parking position first.

Even though the pods are generally technically equivalent, they do have slightly different facilities inside. For example, one of the pods I rode did have screens (which did not work. Unfortunately, the commercial prints on the transit vehicles limits the view outside a bit. One of the pods I used was also rather run down, while the other felt very modern and refurbished. Apart from four seats, there is quite a lot of space in between them. Thus, even with some major luggage, the Heathrow Pods are comfortable in regards of space. You have to say, though, that the right is much more bumpy and juddery than I expected.


Heathrow Pod – My View

I am a transport nerd. From that perspective already, the Heahtrow Pod is a lot of fun. The pods itself work very well. The space in the vehicles is very comfortable as well. However, the ride is rather bumpy and it felt that some more vehicles would improve the service. Nonetheless, I feel it is a very interesting piece of individual transport – I hope that there will be more of these things in the future. Heathrow Pod is definitely reliable.


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