On a more sombre note, customers may take a turn for the worse on their hols and never reclaim their car. In that case, there’s a lot of work to be done establishing the legal right of a friend or relative to collect it.
Purple Parking Gatwick, located on the south side of the airport, can accommodate up to 3200 cars and deals with around 70 arrivals every hour in peak season. More than 280,000 cars and almost 900,000 people pass through each year. It’s a hands-on operation requiring an army of permanent staff, 24/7/365. You turn up, give them your key and catch a shuttle bus to your terminal while they park your car in a safe and secure area – on site.
That last bit is important. Every summer, the newspapers are filled with tales of rogue operators parking customers’ cars in supermarket car parks or on housing estates. Last year, police warned people flying from Gatwick to be wary of leaving their cars with ‘cowboy’ parking firms after 1000 vehicles were discovered parked up to their axles in mud in a field close to the airport.
Thankfully, Purple Parking’s site is fully paved. It has the Park Mark seal of approval, too, meaning its security standards are up to scratch. If anything, it’s the customers who can be a bit fly, such as the guy who arrived in a brand new car and flew off for a fortnight, then came back and complained it had lost its new-car smell. Or the driver who claimed his car had alloy wheels when he arrived but now it had steels. The people who accuse Glover and his crew of breaking their mirrors, only to find there’s a power-fold button they didn’t know about. The owners who swear the car they’ve returned to isn’t theirs, until they remember they drove their partner’s car to the airport.
And the chap whose car is parked right in front of me – in the wrong place. According to Glover, he had his “holiday head on” and, instead of handing in his keys, got on the shuttle bus and left.
“We can deal with most things because we have CCTV and every car is photographed, so we know what condition it was in when it arrived,” says Glover. “It’s the ones who turn up for their cars early without warning who cause us the biggest headache. Their car is always the last in the stick, so they all have to come out.” Cars are parked by return date, their windscreen wipers indicating when in the day their owner is due back: midnight to 6am and 6am to noon, both wipers raised; noon to 6pm, one wiper raised; 6pm to midnight, no wipers raised.