The Getaway
Which London Airport Should I Fly Into?

Planning a trip to London? Your journey begins long before you set foot in the busy streets of the British capital. One of the first and key decisions you'll face is deciding which of London's six airports to arrive at. This choice can significantly impact your travel experience, affecting everything from your budget to your stress levels.

With options ranging from the massive Heathrow to the compact London City Airport, each with its own unique advantages, making the right decision can feel overwhelming. But don't worry – whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned London traveler, we're here to help you navigate this important choice.

By considering factors like location, accessibility, airlines, and costs, you can ensure your London adventure gets off to the perfect start right from touchdown.


01 Overview of London's major airports

London's airport landscape is diverse and expansive, with six major airports serving the city and surrounding areas. Each airport has its own unique history, characteristics, and role in London's air travel ecosystem. Heathrow Airport (LHR), opened in 1946, is the behemoth of London's airports. As Europe's busiest airport, it handles over 80 million passengers annually. With its five terminals and extensive international connections, Heathrow serves as a global hub for long-haul flights and is the primary base for British Airways. Gatwick Airport (LGW), dating back to the 1930s, is London's second-largest airport. It operates with two terminals and specializes in both short-haul European flights and long-haul routes, particularly to North America and the Caribbean. Gatwick is a popular choice for budget-conscious travelers and serves around 46 million passengers per year. Stansted Airport (STN), which began commercial operations in 1966, has grown to become the UK's third-busiest airport. It primarily caters to low-cost carriers like Ryanair and easyJet, offering an extensive network of European destinations. Stansted handles approximately 28 million passengers annually. London City Airport (LCY), the newest of the bunch, opened in 1987. Even though it's smaller, LCY handles over 5 million passengers each year, mainly business travelers and those flying to nearby European locations. Luton Airport (LTN) and Southend Airport (SEN) also provide services, mainly for budget airlines, with passenger numbers around 18 million and 2 million, respectively. These airports are additional choices for economical travel to various places in Europe.


02 Location and accessibility

top down picture of the Gatwick airport Mohd Syis Zulkipli /

When choosing a London airport, location and accessibility are important factors to think about. Each airport's distance from central London and available transportation options can significantly impact your travel time and budget.

Heathrow Airport, located about 15 miles west of central London, offers excellent connectivity. The Piccadilly Line provides a direct underground connection, with a journey time of 50-60 minutes to central London. For a faster option, the Heathrow Express train reaches Paddington Station in just 15 minutes, though at a higher cost.

Gatwick Airport, situated 28 miles south of London, is well-connected via the Gatwick Express. This non-stop train service to London Victoria takes only 30 minutes, offering a swift and comfortable transfer. Regular trains also run to other London stations, providing more budget-friendly alternatives.

Stansted Airport, 40 miles northeast of London, is linked by the Stansted Express train, reaching Liverpool Street Station in about 50 minutes. Although it is more distant from the city, it often has better prices for both flights and ground transportation.

London City Airport, ideally located just 7 miles east of central London, is the nearest to the city center. It's easily accessible via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), with a journey time of around 22 minutes to Bank station.

Luton Airport, 28 miles north of London, connects to Luton Airport Parkway station via a frequent shuttle bus. From there, trains to central London take about 40 minutes. Southend Airport, the furthest at 36 miles east, offers train services to Liverpool Street Station in about an hour.


03 Airlines and destinations served

Each of London's airports caters to different airlines and destinations, offering travelers a wide range of options depending on their travel needs and preferences.

Heathrow Airport, as the main hub for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, offers an extensive network of long-haul international flights. It serves over 200 destinations in 84 countries, with a strong focus on transatlantic routes and connections to Asia and Australia. Major international carriers like American Airlines, Emirates, and Lufthansa also operate from Heathrow, making it ideal for intercontinental travelers.

Gatwick Airport, while smaller than Heathrow, still boasts an impressive array of destinations, serving over 200 locations in 90 countries. It's a popular choice for both short-haul European flights and long-haul routes, particularly to North America and the Caribbean. Airlines like easyJet, TUI, and Norwegian have significant operations at Gatwick, offering a mix of budget and full-service options.

Stansted Airport specializes in low-cost carriers and serves as a major base for Ryanair, Europe's largest budget airline. It offers an extensive network of European destinations, making it an excellent choice for budget-conscious travelers exploring the continent. Other airlines like easyJet and also operate from Stansted, providing additional options for short-haul flights.

London City Airport, with its focus on business travel, offers flights to major European cities and financial centers. Airlines like British Airways and KLM operate from here, providing quick and convenient connections for business travelers and those looking for easy access to central London.


04 Airport facilities and services

London's airports offer a wide range of facilities and services to cater to diverse traveler needs. Each airport provides unique amenities, ensuring comfort and convenience for passengers.

Heathrow Airport, being the largest, boasts an impressive array of facilities. Terminal 5 alone houses over 110 shops and more than 30 restaurants, offering everything from luxury brands to local specialties. The airport features several lounges, including the exclusive Heathrow VIP service for a private airport experience. For families, there are dedicated play areas in each terminal, and multi-faith prayer rooms are available for spiritual needs.

Gatwick Airport offers a premium security lane for a fee, allowing faster access through security checks. Its North and South terminals both feature a variety of shops and dining options, catering to different tastes and budgets. Gatwick also provides special assistance services for passengers with reduced mobility, ensuring accessibility for all travelers.

Stansted Airport has a dedicated area for families with young children, including a play area to keep little ones entertained before flights. The airport's main departure lounge offers a range of shops and eateries, as well as comfortable seating areas. For business travelers, Stansted provides meeting rooms and work pods for last-minute preparations.

London City Airport, though smaller, offers efficient services tailored to its business-oriented clientele. It features fast-track security options and provides complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the terminal. The compact nature of the airport means shorter walking distances and quicker processes, ideal for time-sensitive travelers.

All London airports offer currency exchange services, luggage storage facilities, and information desks to assist travelers. They also provide a range of transportation options, including car rentals, taxi services, and public transport links, ensuring smooth onward journeys for arriving passengers.


05 Cost considerations

When choosing a London airport, cost is often a key factor. Understanding the various price components can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your budget.

Flight prices can vary significantly between airports. Stansted and Luton, primarily serving budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet, often offer the most competitive fares for European destinations. These low-cost carriers typically provide no-frills service but can result in substantial savings, especially for short-haul flights.

Heathrow, being a major international hub, generally has higher landing fees, which can be reflected in ticket prices. It also tends to provide more attractive deals on long-haul flights because of more competition among airlines. Gatwick provides a variety of both budget and full-service options.

It's important to look at airport fees and taxes, which can add a lot to your total cost. These vary between airports and are often not included in the initial fare quote. For instance, Heathrow's passenger service charge is typically higher than other London airports.

Hidden costs, particularly transportation to and from the airport, should also be considered in your decision. Heathrow and Gatwick offer efficient yet expensive express train services, but the cost of getting to Stansted or Luton might negate their lower flight prices, especially if you're staying in central London.

When comparing flight prices, always include the total cost, such as transportation to your final destination. A seemingly inexpensive flight to Stansted might turn out to be more costly once you include the train fare to central London.


06 Making your decision

When choosing a London airport, it's essential to balance various factors to find the best fit for your specific travel needs. Consider your priorities: location, cost, convenience, and flight options. Each traveler type may have different requirements, so tailor your decision accordingly.

For business travelers, London City Airport's proximity to the financial district and quick check-in processes make it an attractive option. Its central location can save valuable time, especially for short trips. But if you're taking a long flight, Heathrow or Gatwick are better choices because they have a lot of international flights.

Leisure travelers and families might look at cost and how easy it is to get there. Stansted or Luton could offer budget-friendly options for European destinations, but remember the extra time and cost to get to central London. For long flights, Heathrow and Gatwick usually have the most choices and good prices.

When planning multi-city trips, consider using different London airports for arrival and departure. This strategy can optimize your itinerary and potentially save money. For example, you might fly into Heathrow for its excellent connections from your city of origin but depart from Gatwick if it offers a better-priced or more convenient flight to your next destination.

Remember that the cheapest flight isn't always the best value. Consider transportation costs to and from the airport, as well as your time. Paying a bit more for a flight to a closer airport could be a good choice if it cuts down on your travel time.

In the end, your choice should match your travel plans, budget, and what you prefer. By carefully weighing these factors, you can ensure your London trip starts and ends on the right note.


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