Heathrow to Gatwick - making it work
September 26, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

About ten years ago you all helped someone transfer from Gatwick to Heathrow within a 4-hour window. I'm going the other direction and my transfer time has one hour less. Please hope me!

Like that other poster, I too am a solo traveler with one single carryon and an up-to-date passport, so I do not anticipate delays in customs and have no baggage to collect. I am on a British Airways flight from Berlin, landing at 1:30 pm on a Saturday - and departing from Gatwick at 4:45 that same day for a flight to JFK.

What can I do to maximize the transfer and make sure I make my connection? Run out and grab a taxi? Metro? Some other system I don't know about?

Please advise...
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Travel & Transportation around London, England (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you seen this page, which seems recent and relevant?

Best and fastest transportation from Gatwick to Heathrow airport
posted by chrisamiller at 8:16 AM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: I did see that, and the fact that someone was suggesting a helicopter made me skeptical of the advice offered therein.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

We used National Express to get from LHR to Gatwick. It took us a few minutes to find the place where bus picked us up, but once we did, it was easy-peasy. We had a four-hour layover as well, and were at Gatwick with over 2 hours to spare!
There's an option when you make your reservation to be allowed on the next bus if you miss yours, I selected that because one never knows when a flight will be delayed.
It was pretty cheap and easy - recommend!
posted by dbmcd at 8:23 AM on September 26, 2017

For the love of god, don't try a taxi.

Given that you are not hauling luggage, I would do:

-Heathrow Connect to Paddington Station (15min)
-Tube from Paddington to Victoria Station (Bakerloo line - change at Oxford Circus to Victoria Line is probably fastest. Or just do circle/district if you don't want to change)
-Gatwick Express or Southern Rail train from Victoria to Gatwick

You could probably do this in an hour and a half.
posted by oneaday at 8:24 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We had a four-hour layover as well, and were at Gatwick with over 2 hours to spare!

Last threadsit: I have only three hours and 15 minutes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on September 26, 2017

I was going to recommend oneaday's solution but then started planning out timings. *If* you get off and through passport control quickly at Heathrow (Saturday afternoon shouldn't be too bad) and *if* you are checked in for your JFK flight already and *if*, as you say, you don't have baggage, I think you'll be okay.

Otherwise, it's not looking so great - e.g.:
2:03pm take Heathrow Express
2:19pm arrive Paddington
2:30pm leave Paddington on Bakerloo line southbound
2:35pm arrive Oxford Circus on Bakerloo line and walk straight across through the little tunnel straight to the Victoria line southbound (local london knowledge here - that little interchange between Bakerloo and Victoria there is a godsend)
2:50pm arrive Victoria
3:06pm leave Victoria for Gatwick
3:46pm arrive Gatwick
3:55pm wander through security and head to gate. Transatlantic flights can board early so you may not have that much time.
(see nationalrail.co.uk to plan this kind of thing out)

Tight, once you write it out like that.

I'd go for the bus (National Express) unless you can't deal with coach travel (I know people who get sick on buses).

Very last resort as I hate to recommend them but an Uber from LHR to LGW is an hour and will cost you £50+.
posted by giraffeneckbattle at 9:00 AM on September 26, 2017

I don't think you can rely on Uber in London right now, can you? I'm not there, of course, but wasn't it just banned?
posted by limeonaire at 9:46 AM on September 26, 2017

I haven't taken the National Express but it does offer a one-way, direct route in <1> Southern rail=30 min) and take one of many Southern trains to Gatwick (should only be about 30 min)...but if you're going to be depending on the train in such a short time interval, I'd double-check there are no planned strike actions that day.

Uber just lost its license in London and will probably appeal and probably be granted an extension but I still wouldn't depend on that mode. A black cab will certainly be running but will be crazy expensive.
posted by stillmoving at 9:47 AM on September 26, 2017

Uber was banned but not suspended pending an appeal so you can still use them, EC when are you travelling?
posted by ellieBOA at 9:51 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: November 4th is the date I'm doing this. I have Lyft but not Uber.

I just checked one of those London Transit trip planners and it recommenced the National Express bus as well; I think I'm spooked because I saw someone leave a bad review because they got stuck in traffic or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on September 26, 2017

This is tiiight.

If you'll have data, check traffic when you land. Assuming there are no significant delays, take a car. Lyft doesn't operate in London yet, so you'll need to install Uber. If you don't want to use Uber (or they're no longer operating in London) then a coach will be maybe 10 or 20 minutes slower in the absence of traffic. If there is traffic then the car can improvise and take a different route, which may be much quicker.

But If you do end up taking the train from LHR to central London, do not take the Heathrow Connect on this schedule. Be sure to get the Heathrow Express. The Connect is a stopping service and is more subject to delays in my experience.
posted by caek at 9:57 AM on September 26, 2017

As others have noted, this is very tight. At that time of day traffic should be ok and I'd book a car in advance to meet me at Heathrow. I've used https://www.twelvetransfers.co.uk/ who have been economical and reliable.
posted by gravelshoes at 10:09 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a really, really tight connection. To be honest, unless the Berlin-LHR and LGW-JFK flights are on the same ticket, I would consider the carefully the possibility of taking a direct Easyjet flight direct to Gatwick earlier in the day. There's a flight arriving at 11am that is currently $58, which is no more than you'll spend getting from Heathrow to Gatwick. Take that.

They'll start boarding your flight before 4pm, and there are enhanced check-in security measures before flights to the US. You can't complete check in online. They'll inspect your documentation at the check-in desk, which can slow things down. And then they'll check your documentation again at the gate, which for US flights is a separate, secure area (sometimes in a rather remote part of the terminal, although Gatwick is not huge).
posted by caek at 10:14 AM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: I am not sure if I would be able to change/cancel any leg of my trip. It was purchased all in one piece as part of a package itinerary on cheapo-air; my whole itinerary involved travel to Budapest AND Berlin before going home, so I was having a hell of a time finding flights where I didn't have like a two-and-a-half-day layover in Istanbul or something. This itinerary was sort of a "mystery meat" thing on Cheapo-Air that had a really good rate, and the departure time and flight length fit my needs so I took the risk.

If there's a chance I'd be able to change or cancel that one portion of my itinerary without wrecking the rest of it, I'd consider it, but I'm a little afraid to monkey with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on September 26, 2017

This travel operator has sold you a very difficult connection, so it might be worth querying with them.

If the Berlin-LHR and LGW-JFK flights have separate record locators (these are the six letter booking codes like QSEFTG) then I believe they're separate tickets, and you can simply not take the earlier flight, and get to Gatwick some other way. I wouldn't cancel the Berlin-LHR flight. Just don't take it.
posted by caek at 10:28 AM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: Same record locator. :-/
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on September 26, 2017

I did see that, and the fact that someone was suggesting a helicopter made me skeptical of the advice offered therein.

The StackExchange family of sites seem to attract people that give overly literal answers to questions (probably because they grew out of StackOverflow, which is for programmers). So you ask for "best and fastest" solutions and someone's going to give the fastest one.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:08 AM on September 26, 2017

Uber will still operate in London in November.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:29 AM on September 26, 2017

I've taken the National Express bus a few times and it's pretty much always around an hour. Worst I've had was about 80 minutes on a Friday morning. There's National Express buses from Heathrow at 1:45 and 1:50pm that Saturday. You'd be pushing it, but if you can get out in time to catch either of those I wouldn't be worried. The next bus is 2:20pm, getting into Gatwick at 3:20. A 25 minute delay still leaves you an hour to to get through security. The M25 is a lottery at the best of times, but it's Saturday afternoon, so barring a major, major accident you have enough time. Even if you do miss it, since your booking is with BA both legs they have to book you on the next available flight.
posted by IanMorr at 11:47 AM on September 26, 2017

Would you be willing to drive? A quick Kayak search looked to be about $60 from LHR to LGW on November 4. It would be about the same as Uber, so an option if Uber wasn't running by then.
posted by Everydayville at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2017

The next bus is 2:20pm, getting into Gatwick at 3:20. A 25 minute delay still leaves you an hour to to get through security.
An hour is not enough time to get through security. BA long haul check-in closes 60 minutes before departure at Gatwick. You can do some of the paperwork for check-in before arriving, but you still have to go to the counters to have your visa/passport paperwork inspected.

If you're on the 2:20pm coach (and you probably will be; a 1:45 or 1:50pm coach is a long-shot given the sheer scale of LHR T5), then a 25 minute delay means you pull up at Gatwick coach station 60 minutes before departure, and you miss your flight. Miss that flight and there are no more ways for BA to get you to New York that day.
And the 60 minute check-in rule for international flight check-in is a hard minimum. For a US flight, which has extra security, and will start boarding an hour before take off, you want to get there earlier.

Don't get the coach! You need to get in a private taxi or Uber as soon as possible after landing.

(And renting a car is the last thing you should do, by the way. Pick-up and drop-off will add several hours to the connection.)
posted by caek at 12:29 PM on September 26, 2017

Recognise that you'll have to leg it through both airports - I've spent 5 mins going through immigration at LHR and on other occasions up to an hr and I have an EU passport.

Gatwick has two terminals, make sure you know exactly which you need and don't be afraid to push your way through any queues.

I've sucessfully checked in online for US flights many times including during the last month on BA. But you must enter the advance passenger information for your booking several days before checking in. I would download the BA app Right now, find your booking and see if you can do that now. If you can complete that you should be able to then check in online 24hrs before departure. Which I would highly recommend because as solo traveller checking in in person you're guaranteed a middle seat otherwise. They will still compare your boarding pass to your passport when you board.

The second reason to use the app is because if your flight to London is delayed you will miss your connection. And in that case you may be able to rebook online. At least when they cancel a flight they basically offer you and alternative for rebooking online long before you've even found an agent to help you.

They'll start to board your flight to JFK at about 4pm.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: You may all take it as read that I would be doing the online checking in before the flight. At the very least, when I check in for my first leg in Berlin, that would check me in for the second leg. I also try to check in the day before flights as a matter of course.

You may also all take it as read that I know that I need to be at the South Terminal in Gatwick, since the British Airways site says that all flights out of Gatwick are in the South Terminal.

And there is no way in this world or any other, in any known and unknown alternate universes, tha I would get a flippin' car.

Caek: Why are you assuming it would take that long to get my passport stamped and visa inspected? I hear what you say about the airport closing the gate, but I would have an existing connecting flight and am not sure it would take so long to process as a result.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:14 PM on September 26, 2017

The problem isn't how long it takes to check your paperwork when you get to the front of the line. It's that there will be a line. You can minimize the paperwork by doing some of it in advance, but you can't avoid joining the line, even by checking in online. The line is the problem. And there are two of them for US flights: at check in and again at the (remote) gate. (And it's not impossible you'll arrive at Gatwick after the first of these lines has closed at 3:45pm.)

To be honest, the connection seems so insane that I'm optimistic you don't you have a single Berlin-JFK ticket with two legs. I think maybe you have two tickets, and the travel agency has issued a single record locator for the overall itinerary.

If this is correct, the bad news is you won't necessarily get any help from BA if you miss the connection, and you won't be checked in for the Gatwick to JFK flight simply by checking in at Berlin. The good news is you can take the easyjet flight without the Gatwick flight being cancelled.

If it's not correct: try to sit near the front on the Berline flight, run to a taxi and hope for the best.
posted by caek at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2017

EC has hand-luggage only and will be issued the LGW boarding pass in Berlin. There's no need to check-in again at LGW, they can go straight to security. South Terminal is the second stop for the NEX bus, but doesn't add much to the journey. Unless they absolutely have to be in JFK on the Saturday I'd risk the bus. You can call and confirm with BA that it's a protected connection, but there's no reason to assume it isn't. The minimum connection time they specify on their website is 3 hours. Worst case if it's a protected connection is you get an extra night in London at BA's expense and rebooked the next day.
posted by IanMorr at 2:17 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well: I called both Cheapo Air, AND I called BA. Cheapo Air said that since they arranged the itinerary all of a piece through BA, that was a good sign - they claimed BA would not have arranged that reservation if it was not possible for me to make that connection. That's when I called BA - to verify that. The agent there also said that yes, I should indeed be able to make it.

The agent also said that the gate at Gatwick closes 45 minutes before the flight - NOT 60 minutes. So I have until 4 to get to the gate. He did say that if my flight into Heathrow landed on time, but my transit between the airports was a problem, that was on me - but added that if the Heathrow flight was late, that was on them. I also triple-checked BA's web site - three hours is their minimum recommended transfer time between Heathrow and Gatwick. They recommend using National Express bus. I figure that if I've missed both the 1:45 and the 1:50 bus, I can just cab it instead of waiting 20 minutes for the next bus.

Finally: I asked my co-workers what they thought, and while neither has had to make this transfer, one has said that in his experience, BA is usually a good assessor of timing. And - this is honestly one reason why my return trip is on Saturday rather than Sunday.

I'm still probably going to take a flight attendant aside on the flight to Heathrow and say "okay, here's the deal" and get their advice, and be ready to run when I get to Heathrow. But I'm going to gamble.

Any advice about how to stack the deck, though, would be welcome (i.e., "Make sure you look for the National Express bus that says 'diesel speed'" or "the National Express bus is nearest the door by the Starbucks when you come down from the arrivals gate" or whatever).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:57 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's the door nearest the Costa Coffee. Bus stop 11 or 12 I think. It's well sign posted.
posted by IanMorr at 7:48 PM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: Holy crap that Flyertalk guide is AMAZING.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:25 AM on September 27, 2017

I do not have advice for the airport transfer, but I am also a solo traveler with one carry on and I will be on the same British Airways flight on November 4th (but have a much longer window to make my connection). The internet is weird. Best of luck making your way!
posted by snufflepup at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2017

Ok, that FlyerTalk guide is amazing, and comprehensive. Nothing further to add on travel options.

The one possible fly in the ointment will be the time through Immigration. I recently flew into Heathrow on a US passport and it was appalling - absolutely awful. They took all the UK/EU passports on our flight first - fair enough, I suppose - but then kept letting other flight arrivals cut into our line, while only having a handful of counters open on Sunday morning.

That was the slowest Immigration line I have experienced in a long while. In my last two trips, I've had much better luck at Shanghai (they post a Service Guarantee of 90%+ in under 25 minutes) and much, much better performance at Detroit (15 minutes) and Philadelphia (5 minutes) without Global Entry or anything special.

So - Flyertalk options aside - if you get really bad Immigration lines, you might be in trouble. I'd sprint off the plane if I could, to at least be ahead of most of the other non-UK/EU passport holders.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:44 PM on October 2, 2017

Response by poster: I've been warned about the immigration line....I'm planning to speak to an attendant on the plane to Heathrow, to ask "okay, how can I make sure I make it through the immigration line in time." (I should add that I've been into and out of Heathrow twice and both times I had a short wait in passport control, but there's always an anomaly, I'm aware....)

I also posted this question on Facebook in a travelers' community; and by far the best response I got was from a flight attendant with BA who agreed it was a tight connection, but gave me some realtalk responses to "here's how BA really would handle someone in your situation in each of these circumstances" and is encouraging me to "have a go", and says there's still a decent chance I'll be fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:51 PM on October 2, 2017

> okay, how can I make sure I make it through the immigration line in time.

Get a UK passport? :) Failing that, sit near the exit, fill out your paperwork early and correctly, get off as quickly as possible, and sprint.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2017

Response by poster: Yikes, just realized that the trip has come and gone and I didn't update! It worked out okay - here's what happened.

1. The ticket agent in Berlin made me check my bag because it was "too big". When I went pale she said she would attach a "priority handling" ticket onto it.

2. The flight got into Heathrow early, and I all but catapulted myself out of my seat to get to the passport line.

3. I still waited in line at passport control for 30 minutes. I realized too late that I could have at least inquired at the "priority access" booth to see if I could sneak in that way, but no dice. Still everyone was telling me I'd be fine.

4. I grabbed my bag right off the baggage carousel and sprinted for the National Express counter - who told me the earliest coach they could put me on was the 3 pm one, which would be leaving in 20 minutes. When I said I needed to be at Gatwick at 4 and asked if I could make it, she said, "well....maybe." For kicks I asked at the taxi stand what the price would be - they told me 150 pounds. I stuck to National Express and prayer.

5. And then the WORLD'S MOST AWESOME BUS DRIVER rolled up 15 minutes early, unloaded the three passengers who were getting off and then turned to me. "Let's get yer movin,'" he said in a very thick Belfast accent. I showed him my boarding pass and asked if I would make it on time. "Well, if there's no traffic on the M3, ye'll make it," he said, then cautioned "If". I said I'd trust him and got on. He then proceeded to make it to Gatwick in less than an hour, unloading me in plenty of time. I lingered an extra 30 seconds to gush that he was a "worker of miracles", got to the Gatwick check-in at 3:50, got to the security screening at 3:55, and got to my gate 10 minutes before they started boarding.

The National Express coach was indeed the best way, but also the fact that I was traveling on a Saturday afternoon helped (it was low traffic) and that awesome bus driver also helped tremendously. Traveling light also helped. Still the info in that Flyertalk link was invaluable in helping me navigate the Heathrow terminal itself to find my way to the counter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

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