Travelling by tube to Heathrow can seriously damage your health

I thought my plan was flawless. At 3pm on the Friday afternoon I would take the tube to Heathrow, get there about 4pm, meet David, swish around the shops for an hour, and board the 5.40pm plane for Rome. Oh, a weekend in Tuscany, so simple, so effortless.

At 4pm I left the office. At 4.20pm Docklands Light Railway deposited me at Bank Tube. By 4.40pm I had managed to cut across town to Holborn and, after a agonising seven minute wait, at last caught a Piccadilly Line train that would take me the 22 stops (and counting) to Heathrow, terminal 2.

By now I was well aware that I was in trouble. Anyone who has made this trip will know that one hour is enough time to get to Heathrow, just, but add on time to check in, do the passport and security business, and it was obvious that I was up that dark brown creek without the proverbial paddle. And all swishing was definitely off the cards.

I began to time how long it took to go between two stations in an attempt to work out an exact ETA. The problem was that while it took minutes to rattle between some stations (Acton Town to South Ealing calmed me, slightly), others taunted me with endless miles of track (the trip to Boston Manor was interminably long).

As my anxiety grew, I became convinced that people were deliberately taking their time getting on and off the train. And did the tube driver think this was a Sunday drive?

I called David on my mobile phone and broke the news that it looked like a weekend in Tooting was possible but Tuscany was almost certainly off the cards. He seemed calm about my panic but said he would see if there was anything he could do to speed things up when, if, I got to Heathrow.

He called back to say that BA said they could only contemplate letting me on board if I arrived with a full 10 minutes to spare, but that I could check in at the gate. Unfortunately David couldn't check in himself because I had insisted on looking after the tickets.

The last part of the tube journey was the worst: tube plodding along, the hands on my watch spinning out of control. Why oh why did they build the station for terminal 4 before that of terminals 1,2,3? Why are these two stations so far apart?

Finally the tube rattled to a halt. By now I had enlisted the sympathies of several other passengers who all stood back as, at 4.23pm, I jumped from the carriage and started running for the terminal and my honour.

My god it's bloody miles! My mouth dried, I became flat footed, my bag pulled at my shoulders. Meanwhile a la Anneka I tried to talk to David on my mobile as he guided me to where he was waiting.

With exactly one minute to go before cut off time, I found him and a member of BA's ground crew who was waiting to help. She checked us in and phoned the gate to warn them that they had "two runners" and warned us that the plane would not wait. Running Man was off again. If you were in the queue for the X-Ray machine and got hit by two hysterical men with overgrown hand luggage, we beg forgiveness. If you were the immigration official who got told to hurry up, likewise, sorry.

Gate 46 was, of course, at the far end of the terminal. But we arrived wheezing, sweating, and with two minutes to go. We were immediately followed by two more groups of "runners" who were all perspiration and apologies.

All the way to Rome I was convinced that I was about to suffer cardiac arrest. A stiff vodka saved me.

And then just this week someone had the cheek to ask me if we really need the upcoming high-speed Heathrow rail connection. Pah! Do we need Boston Manor, Hounslow Central and Hatton Cross? No, take them off the tube line now.

Jeremy Atiyah is in Iraq (honest).

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