Monday, 23 June 2014

So how does it work?

For 99% of the population of the UK, you follow the motorway down towards the bottom right hand corner of the map.  For us it's M32 / M5 / M25 / M26 / M20.  Just short of Folkestone, there is an exit for the Channel Tunnel terminal.  Take it.  If you miss it, don't worry, just go on to the Folkestone exit a couple of miles further on and follow the signs to bring you back to the terminal. 

Follow the road for a couple of miles.  It slows you gently down to 40 mph and then you arrive at the check in gates.  This is pretty much computerised these days:
  • as you pull up to the screen, the system reads your numberplate, recognises you from your booking, and says hello.  
  • You confirm who you are by slotting in the credit card you used to book.  
  • If you are early or late it looks for an alternative crossing time for you, and you just touch the screen for the time you want.  
  • Then it prints out a paper hanger.  
  • Make sure you are ready for this because you will look a damn fool running across the car park if the wind catches it.  
  • The barrier opens.  
  • You drive through.  
The tricky bit is remembering which credit card you used.  On a Frequent Traveller deal, it might be a year since you made the original purchase.  Your card might even have expired!  If it does, don't cut it up, keep it in the car for going through the Eurotunnel check in.  The alternative is to type in a long booking reference, and probably have to talk to a human being who can't understand why you don't have your card with you. 

If you arrive close to crossing time, you can miss out the terminal altogether - so I will.  Straight to passports - UK border control first, then maybe a test for explosives and firearms, then French border control.  Follow the signs - high vehicles in one lane, regular vehicles in another, and Flexiplus fans in yet another.  If you are in a regular car, you get to play chicken by driving under a series of red and white gates suspended from poles across the road - maximum height is 1.85.  If you have a roofbox, or bicycles, or a Range Rover, you might prefer to take the high vehicles lane.

Then you line up in rows waiting for the train.  Lane 1 goes first, then Lane 2, then Lane 3 - simple, isn't it?  Beware of jumping lanes - if you do, and they spot you, they make you wait.

You follow the line of traffic, or the green arrows if it's a quiet night, until you get to the train.  The loadmaster beckons you forward and onto either the lower or upper deck (unless you went for the high vehicles lane).  There's nothing to choose between them, so it doesn't matter that you get no choice.  Pull right up to the vehicle in front (another loadmaster will beckon you forward).  Switch off, 1st gear or park, open the windows.  You're aboard!

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