London Airport. Which one?
June 6, 2012 9:35 PM   Subscribe

We're passing through London at the end of August (post-Olympics) for a couple of days on our way back from Ireland. We leave London on a Wednesday at 9pm from Heathrow terminal 1. I have questions about airports for our arrival in the UK.

We're probably going to arrive Monday evening in London, spend two nights at a hotel, then leave Wednesday night. "We" is two adults and a 7 year old.

There are a number of airports we could arrive in London with flights from Ireland (we don't have our Irish itinerary yet, so we haven't chosen what city we'll be leaving from yet).

I was thinking that flying into Heathrow and leaving most of our luggage in storage before heading into London makes sense.

Or should we consider one of the other London airports? (This option precludes leaving our luggage in storage.) Luton, Stantead and Gatwick are options. London City is an option if we choose to fly from Dublin, but we're starting our trip in Dublin and may want to avoid looping back.

(And I just realized that we could avoid UK customs and immigration at an airport if we flew from Belfast, which we hadn't thought about visiting.)

Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by ShooBoo to Travel & Transportation around London, England (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd be inclined to go via Belfast if it gets you out of queues at this end. I've done the same thing going to the USA via Shannon and it was awesome to get off the plane and just get on with things.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:46 PM on June 6, 2012

I took multiple Dublin-Liverpool trips last year, and I never had to deal with UK customs. Even with checked baggage. (It was a bit disappointing to not receive a UK passport stamp.) London could be different, but probably not, because of the Common Travel Area.

Can you arrange your last airport to be Dublin, before going back to the USA? If your flight takes place during normal business hours, you can clear US customs in Dublin. And THAT is an enormous time- and sanity-saver.
posted by Xere at 12:16 AM on June 7, 2012

Heathrow, London City, Gatwick, Stansted have the best transport connections, in approximately that order. Heathrow or London City if you want to save money on transport by getting the tube/DLR into town, Gatwick and Stansted require trips on express services or national rail services and are quite a bit more expensive. Don't even think about Luton.
posted by corvine at 12:26 AM on June 7, 2012

the latin mouse is referring to the US customs pre-clearance in Shannon, and the queues in the US. There's two in Ireland: Dublin and Shannon. You clear US customs and the security theater in Shannon/Dublin, and then that's it. Once you arrive at your US destination, you are treated like a domestic traveller, and not an international arrival. You'll walk straight out of the airport, instead of through the massive lines.

Going via Belfast will not get you out of any additional queues. It will probably be the same as any Republic airport.
posted by Xere at 12:29 AM on June 7, 2012

I'm going to have to disdagree with corvine about Luton. It's not too bad, the only annoyance is getting the shuttle bus from the airport to the station. But the train connections are fine and relatively quick, and take you to St Pancras or further into the City. Stansted is a shitehole served by the desperately unreliable Stansted "Express" (HA!) that rattles you into Liverpool Street in as much time as it feels like taking, which is usually a lot longer than you'd like it to be.

London City is by far the most civilised airport. It's a lot busier than it used to be, but you don't get swamped by shirieking hen parties and drunken stags like you do in Stansted, and, to a lesser extent, Luton. But transport has improved a lot now the Docklands Toy Railway goes there.
posted by ComfySofa at 1:37 AM on June 7, 2012

Assuming the Olympics Passport queues have receded by the time you travel, I would pick Heathrow every time. Flights to any of these airports are going to be fairly cheap, and any additional savings by going to Stansted, Luton, or Gatwick are almost certainly offset by the time and money spent actually getting back from the airport to London. Heathrow has the best connections (Heathrow Express and the Tube) to central London, particularly if you are intending to schlep a lot of luggage. London City is lovely, and has the shortest queues, but Docklands is pretty far from anything you might want to see as a tourist, except the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
posted by roofus at 2:35 AM on June 7, 2012

Heathrow is on the Central Tube line which makes transport into London much easier. I routinely fly from Irish airports into Gatwick & Stansted and only have to hand my boarding pass to the security agent in a separate queue. I've never had to show a passport but I'm wondering now if that's only for EFTA members.

The queue simply says Flights coming from Ireland or Channel Islands so the only issue is when people forget to keep their boarding pass, they have to show a passport. I'd love to know if this is the same in Heathrow which I avoid like the plague because leaving from T1 and running "the Irish Mile" if I'm delayed was such hassle.
posted by kairab at 3:00 AM on June 7, 2012

Heathrow is usually the right answer, but recently customs has been a big nightmare. Left luggage, hmm, can't recall if there is one at Heathrow, but I know that Paddington Station does, and you can get there quickly via the Heathrow connect train and very quickly, but expensively, via The Heathrow Express train.

London is still picky about left baggage, thanks to various groups with bombs, so they will X-ray and may ask to search the bag. It might be eaiser to either just bring it to the hotel with you, or to ship it home. Shipping might seem expensive, but if you are paying a fee for the bag, it might be a wash.

London City brings you into the East Side of London, but it has a fairly spectacular approach, if you are nervous about those things. If you are staying in docklands, it is very much the best answer, and still good for central London.

Gatwick was OK the one time I flew there. Don't know Stansted or Luton, but to me, that's like flying into Aurora or Rockford when you are trying to get to Chicago.
posted by eriko at 4:21 AM on June 7, 2012

Best answer: Heathrow is on the Central Tube line

This is incorrect. Heathrow has 3 stations (Terminal 1-2-3, Terminal 4 and Terminal 5) on the Picadilly line - nowhere near the Central line. It takes around an hour to get to central london via the tube from Heathrow - and - if you have a bunch o'luggage, it's not a fun ride. There is the Heathrow Express train which goes from Heathrow to Paddington in 15 minutes, but it is quite expensive.

I live in London and I fly a lot. I've done all of the London airports more times than I care to remember.

If I was flying from Dublin to London and staying a few days I would absolutely definitely go to London City. Easy to get into the city, and very few queues for security. As others have said - the approach views are pretty stellar too, especially if it's a nice day.

Do not bother with Luton or Stansted. These are filled to the brim with low-cost and charter airlines passengers, and security queues will be a pain - not to mention the faffing around you have to do to get into the city. Luton ostensibly has a train station, but not actually on-site, at the airport - you have to take a shuttle bus to it, which is all a bit of faff with baggage and child in tow.

Gatwick is do-able - there are frequent trains into either London Bridge or Victoria, direct from the terminal - but overall, London City would definitely be my first choice.
posted by metaxa at 8:14 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

City would be my suggestion as well, small airport that you can get through quickly and excellent connection through the DLR.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:55 PM on June 7, 2012

I just flew through Heathrow T1 this weekend, with 4 adults and a 2 year old. All in all, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, even with the Diamond Jubilee going on. Connecting through Dulles was a far bigger pain, by way of comparison.

I used to always prefer going via Gatwick. Part of that was due to out being closer than Heathrow to my house in Kent, but also it was less crowded and simpler to deal with. We tried to go through there this time but Delta canceled our flight. There was a Gatwick Express train into Victoria (don't know if it's still running) that took 30 mins.
posted by ccalgreen at 4:07 AM on June 8, 2012

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