London has six airports, which can be quite confusing for passengers. Which one should you choose, and can you even choose the airport you’ll land on? Which one is best connected to the city?
Heathrow (LHR) has always been the main London airport, and one of the largest world airports, with over 75 million passengers in 2016. All of the major airlines fly to Heathrow so it’s always very busy. They say it operates at 99% of its capacities. Passengers from flights outside EU can expect longer waits at check points. There are five terminals. It’s close to the city, only about some 20 km away, so it’s the easiest one to reach. The metro, Picadilly line, takes you to the terminals, so make sure you know which one your plane leaves from. The ticket is between 3.10 and 6 pounds. The fastest connection is Heathrow Express that takes about 15 minutes from Paddington station to terminals 1, 2 and 3. One way ticket is 22 pounds, return 37. If you buy it online 90 days in advance, it’ll be 5.50 on weekends and 12.10 on workdays. From the Victoria bus station there is the bus no. 51 for 10 pounds, or for 5 if the ticket is bought online. It takes between half an hour and full hour, depending on the traffic. Taxi is expensive and can set you back between 50 and 90 pounds, but the large black ones can take up to 5 passengers so they may be the best option.
Gatwick (LGW) is the furthest one from the city, some 40 km, which means that reaching the city is more expensive and time-consuming. Despite half as many passengers, the figure was still 43 million in 2016. There are two terminals – southern and northern. The quickest transport to London is Gatwick Express to Victoria station, with departures every 15 minutes. The ride takes about half an hour. There are also trains that stop at multiple stations. The ticket is 17.80 if bought online, 19.80 if bought at the counter. Duo tickets for two persons are offered online for 25.50. You should be careful to get on the right train with the proper ticket. Gatwick Express is a red train. Southern and Thameslink are green, white or purple, which is quite confusing. The lines can be long so it’s a good idea to buy the tickets online. A taxi can cost up to 150 pounds depending on the traffic, and the ride lasts about an hour and a half. The buses also depart from Victoria station and are cheaper than the train. EasyBus can be bought online for as little as 2 pounds. You can also reach Gatwick by bike because it’s connected to the city with a cycling lane. The formalities are done a bit quicker than on Heathrow. It was recently renovated and is more comfortable for passengers.
Stansted (STN) is the most popular airport for low budget (LCC) airlines, with 24 million passengers in 2016. There is only one terminal, bearing the signature of the famous architect Norman Foster from 1991. There are more European flights from Stansted than from any other UK airport. It was constructed along a military runway, half way between Cambridge and London, about 50 km away. Stansted Express train leaves every 15 minutes. The ride is 45 minutes long to the Liverpool Street station in London City. It also stops at Tottenham Hale station, where you can transfer to Victoria Line metro going downtown. One way ticket is 16.60, return ticket 28 pounds. Online it can be bought for as little as 7. The National Express buses drive to 18 stops in London. The ticket is 5 pounds online and the ride takes about an hour. The taxi is about 100 pounds, and there are also minicabs that can be ordered for 60.
Luton (LTN) is about 50 km away from London. It is the smallest airport with 14.5 million passengers, but has the fastest train connection to the city. East Midland trains leave every hour from St. Pancras station to Luton, and the ride lasts only 25 minutes. Thameslink leaves every 15 minutes and the ride lasts 35 minutes. The tickets are 15.70 one way and 27.50 return. You should be careful and buy a ticket for Luton Airport, not Luton Airport Parkway from where there is a shuttle bus to the airport. The National Express buses drive for 5 pounds from 30 stations in London. From Victoria station, the ride is between one and two hours, depending on the traffic. A taxi is about 100 pounds. The airport is quite basic without any special luxury or offer. Easyjet and other LCCs frequently fly to Luton, so the crowds can be big and the waiting long.
City (LCY) is a small airport closest to the city, only about 10 km away. It is located in Docklands near Canary Warf. In 2016, it had 4.5 million passengers. City receives only short European flights so it’s not organized for transfers to other flights. The only long flight is BA1 business class only British Airways flight to New York. The city can be reached by Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in about 20 minutes. A taxi will take you downtown in under an hour for 40 pounds. The airport is small, there aren’t many flights and no crowds.
Southend (SEN) is a city in Essex some 70 km away from London, close to the estuary of the river Thames. It has remained popular among LCC companies for cheap flights mostly towards Spain and France. The Greater Anglia train takes you to Liverpool Street in 53 minutes. One way tickets range between 16.20 and 17.10 pounds. The X30 bus connects it to Stansted. The ticket is 16 pounds, purchased from the driver. A taxi is about 150 pounds. The airport building is small and basic with a couple of restaurants and a news stand.
In general, all of the airports around London are crowded, and waiting is a normal occurrence. You should be careful about which airport you’re flying to and prepare for where you need to go next. Heathrow and Gatwick are also connected by bus, which is important because sometimes the connection is from a different airport. This ride can be up to 2 hours long because the bus takes the route of the London ring road which is always hectic. Terminal 5 on Heathrow used by British is the best and most modern.