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London Airport Guide

Five major international airports serve London, which are all considered be important gateways to the region. The largest is Heathrow (LHR), which is also in the top five largest and busiest airports in the world.  In terms of passenger traffic, Heathrow is followed by Gatwick-International (LGW), Stansted (STN), Luton (LTN) and London City (LCY).

Although the smallest of the airports, London City is the nearest to the central financial districts, and is used mainly by corporate passengers. It is only a few miles from areas such as Canary Wharf, Canning Town, Bank in central London, the ExCel Exhibition Center and the site from where the 2012 Olympic Games will be held. The airport is found in the Borough of Newham, approximately 11 km from central London, and just opposite the Regatta Center. Heathrow is found just 22 km to the west of the city, in the London Borough of Hillingdon, Gatwick is approximately 45 km to the south-eastern side of London, and Stansted is found in Uttlesford, Essex, near Stansted Mountfitchet, approximately 48 km to the northeast. Luton is the furthest from central London, in the Borough of Luton, Bedfordshire, approximately 57 km north of the city center. The M25, M3 and M4 motorways provide Road access to Heathrow, the M23 to Gatwick, the M11 to Stansted, the M1 motorway to Luton and the A13 to London City. 

Over 65 million passengers pass through Heathrow every year, which makes it the second largest airport in the world, falling just behind Atlanta-Hartsfield International. Although it has the highest number of international passengers in the world, the total plane movements in Europe fall short of Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. Gatwick is well known as being the busiest single-runway airport in the world, and handles over 33 million passengers per annum. It is also the 8th largest airport in Europe, and the second largest in the United Kingdom. The fastest growing in Europe is Stansted, currently serving just over 18 million passengers per year, while Luton, the fourth largest in the UK, handles just under 9 million passengers. The fifth largest airport of the city, London City, handles approximately two and half million passengers per year.

London City is interesting due to its location so nearby the heart of London. It had to be built in an already congested area of the city; therefore it operates with a runway, which is much shorter than usually found at other European Airports. Its runway is only 1,508 meters and therefore is only able to accommodate STOL airliners, or Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. The runway has also a much steeper glide-slope than usual, as it has to comply with stringent noise control measures, and is not open 24 hours a day in order to abate noise at night and for a time period over the weekends. British Airways operated by BA CityFlyer holds the majority of destinations, and British Airways itself offers the only transatlantic flight from the airport, to New York’s John F. Kennedy International. The main hub for British Airways and BMI is Heathrow, which also serves as a base for Virgin Atlantic Airways, while Gatwick is often more popular for charter airlines than Heathrow. Some of these airline companies include Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways. Stansted and Luton mainly handle low-cost airline carriers, such as Ryanair, Easyjet, Germanwings, Wizz Air, Air Berlin and AirAsia X, which are a new airline company at Stansted. Stansted is a base for many of these low-cost operators, which have succeeded in exploding air traffic at most airports in the European Union since the year 2000, and was recently chosen as the ‘world’s best low-cost airport’ in the 2011 World Airports Awards. The most popular destinations served include New York, Dubai, Dublin, Malaga, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Budapest, Edinburgh, Rome Ciampino, Warsaw, Glasgow and Alicante.

Heathrow and Gatwick have multiple terminal buildings, five at Heathrow and two at Gatwick, while the other three airports all feature single terminal constructions, however, Stansted consists of three satellite buildings as well as the main terminal, with the closest connected by an air-bridge, and the two further buildings connected by the Stansted Transit System, a people mover with 3 km of track. The Heathrow Express provides by shuttle buses, as well as transport between the terminals at Heathrow, and Gatwick’s terminals are connected by an automatic shuttle transit system, as the terminals are almost a mile apart. The five airports offer world-class facilities for arriving and departing passengers, including luxurious VIP lounges, free internet connections, children’s play areas, full banking and currency exchange services, ATMs, medical facilities and a wide selection of quality shopping outlets and tasty restaurant and snack-bar choices. The airports are also fully accessible for passengers with reduced mobility challenges, and for those in wheelchairs. All airports and airline companies will provide further assistance.

All five airports offer extensive bus, coach and train connections. Luton is the only one that does not have a train station on its site, but is only a short distance from the Luton Parkway station, which is connected by a frequent shuttle bus service. The Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect offer fast train services to Paddington station, the Gatwick Express travels to Victoria station, and Stansted Express takes you directly to Liverpool Street. City Airport’s station is a very special branch of the Docklands Light Railway system, and provides fast links to central London, Canning Town and Canary Wharf. Other railway companies operate from each airport as well. National Express is the coach service that provides transport between the airports, and to various other long-distance destinations. The bus companies of the Airline, Railair, EasyBus, the Stansted Aircoach, First Capital Connect, Green Line and a variety of other local London buses offer additional road transport. Car hire companies are present at each airport, as well as taxis for reliable transport to all destinations in the city and nearby.

Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City play an important role in the growth, developmental and financial aspects of London city, and some of which are amongst the most important in the world. In 2012, they will all serve as major gateways to the Olympic Games.