4.5 hours between Gatwick arrival and Heathrow departure. Help me make it work.
July 5, 2007 1:02 PM   Subscribe

4.5 hours between Gatwick arrival and Heathrow departure. U.S. citizen, experienced traveler, only a carryon bag -- but first time transferring Gatwick to Heathrow. Help me plan as precisely as I can to maximize my chances of making this work.

On Friday, the 10th of August: Arriving LGW at 09:10, on USAir. Departing LHR at 13:40, on JAT (Yugoslav Air) to Belgrade.

• Definitely can't afford a private car.

• Bringing one bag (and nothing else) that meets all current carryon standards for Heathrow and for JAT.

• Have never had any problem immediately clearing customs, and my passport has more than a year left before expiration. Have never needed any secondary inspection at security.

• JAT "suggests" check-in two hours ahead -- and closes gates 30 minutes ahead -- of departure time.

• National Express coach is reported to take 80 minutes from the South Terminal of LGW (where USAir is) to LHR, *not* counting any traffic delays. From what I can tell, some traffic delays are almost inevitable on a weekday morning.

I'm looking to confirm that National Express is my best option (am I missing any better possibilities?), and looking for any suggestions re. how to make beelines straight from Customs to National Express to the JAT terminal at LHR.

And: Should I reserve a National Express ticket in advance? (If I do and then my Gatwick arrival is late, causing me to miss the NE departure I reserved, do I lose that reservation and that money, or is my reservation moved ahead to the next available coach?)

posted by allterrainbrain to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total)
An alternative is the Gatwick Express to Victoria and then tube from Victoria to Heathrow (change once at South Kensington). The Gatwick Express takes 30 minutes, tube from Victoria to Heathrow about 45. At least this way you won't have traffic to worry about.
posted by forallmankind at 1:21 PM on July 5, 2007

only a carryon bag

In the current climate, this is possibly going to be a mistake. Single traveller arriving alone with only carry-on is going to get singled-out for extra timewasting attention.
posted by bonaldi at 1:22 PM on July 5, 2007

drat, I forgot the transport bit. Yes, seconding forallmankind. That's the way I've done it when I've had to make the trip.
posted by bonaldi at 1:23 PM on July 5, 2007

Seconding taking the Express. You could even tube it from Victoria to Paddington and take the Heathrow Express from there, but that might be more hassle than it's worth.
posted by djgh at 1:36 PM on July 5, 2007

Your other option is train. You could take the Gatwick Express to London Victoria (you also have the option to take a slower train. See National Rail for details). Gatwick to Victoria should take about 30 ish minutes. From there you can take the Tube. If you do this you then 2 options:
1. Take the tube from Victoria to South Kensington using the circle / district line. From here, you can then change to the Piccadily line and take that all the way to Heathrow. This option (again according to National Rail) takes an 1hr and 45mins which seems a little longer then what forallmankind said. Been a while since I've done it so am not sure.
2. Sliqhtly quicker might be taking the tube from Victoria to Paddington (also use the circle/district line). From here, you can get the Heathrow Express. Heathrow to Paddington should take 15 mins, so at that point it's just tube time in between. I'd imagine you could do that in half an hour, so total time here might be closer to 1hr 30mins. Heathrow express is expensive though.
Honestly though, my money would be to take the bus. Might help if you get the ticket in advance, that way you can avoid queues at ticket machines/offices. More advice here. . Only do the train if you're really worried about traffic. Also, remember if you do the train you've got to consider waiting for tubes, running around stations etc etc - all of which add up.
On preview, what everyone else said.
posted by Mave_80 at 1:37 PM on July 5, 2007

I third secondforallmankind. Do not take the bus.

The train is regular and easy to use. I was recently at Gatwick and here is what you do.

Get Gatwick express. You will arrive at Victoria. Then take any train to South Kensington, switch to Piccadily Line - this will rush you to Heathrow.

Traffic will not affect this. As an ex londoner do not trust the roads there will be an accident and you will be late. The trains will be your saviour.

Email should you want any more tips. I think your trip will take an hour - tops.

Have fun
posted by Vroom_Vroom_Vroom at 1:38 PM on July 5, 2007

Third vote for the train and tube combo. I'd never trust the roads in London for a time sensitive schedule such as this.
posted by tiamat at 1:40 PM on July 5, 2007

In the current climate, this is possibly going to be a mistake. Single traveller arriving alone with only carry-on is going to get singled-out for extra timewasting attention.

YMMV, but I go through Heathrow dozens of times a year with only a carry-on bag and I've never been stopped.

Re: journey times: I can't see that the train + tube journey will be significantly quicker than National Express, all told (30 mins + 45(?) mins + waiting for trains + walking to trains), nor cheaper. Moreover, if your fear is missing your flight, you are more likely to face a complete catastrophe and get really stuck (and trapped) in the tube than on the roads. Although neither is likely.

Also check cost of car Heathrow - Gatwick from Just Airports +44 20 8900 1666 or Airport Executive +44 20 8838 3299 (I think). May be in youir budget, or not significantly more than the train+tube option.
posted by londongeezer at 1:48 PM on July 5, 2007

OK, forget about the car: Just Airports charges £55 for this trip.
posted by londongeezer at 1:51 PM on July 5, 2007

Didn't we already answer this?
posted by essexjan at 1:53 PM on July 5, 2007

YMMV, but I go through Heathrow dozens of times a year with only a carry-on bag and I've never been stopped.
Yes, it's really just a factor when we're on heightened security, although I think the terror level was dropped yesterday.

During previous alerts whenever I only had a carryon I got stopped, though I am a shifty looking fucker. Talking about it with friends who used to work in customs they explained that single white male with no checked baggage just screams "smuggler/security risk" apparently.
posted by bonaldi at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2007

Response by poster: This was one element of my previous question but it definitely didn't get resolved there.

Good point about the single-bag red flag, but I'm still assuming the guaranteed time loss of checking a bag would outweigh the possible time loss of getting more screening as a smuggling suspect.

In most discussions I found on the web before asking, there was strong consensus that National Express would be faster overall than train/tube. But I tend to value mefi answers more than almost any others in general-audience forums, so now I'm not sure. Who else wants to weigh in?
posted by allterrainbrain at 2:23 PM on July 5, 2007

We did just answer this question pretty thoroughly. I'd just add two things:
  1. It seems that all the people who actually live in the London area* are recommending the coach. I would too. It's easier, timetabled to be faster and mid-morning weekdays I'd take my chances with the roads over the Tube. If you can get traffic info somehow, use it.
  2. Secondly, if you do decide to take train+tube, do not change at South Kensington. Change at Barons Court or Hammersmith, which have cross-platform transfers that will both speed and ease your journey.
* (by profile information, sorry if you live in the area but you didn't mention it)
posted by grouse at 2:23 PM on July 5, 2007

Don't buy your National Express ticket in advance.
posted by grouse at 2:28 PM on July 5, 2007

We just used the bus less than 3 weeks ago (although Heathrow to Stansted) - some observations: the bus took exactly as long as was stated, but was a Saturday morning journey. We bought our tickets in advance. If you miss your purchased/reserved time, your ticket is good on the next bus if there is a seat available. The queues for passport control at Heathrow would have surely made us miss our trip. I flung myself at the feet of an airport worker and explained the airport-to-airport connection we were facing, and she kindly showed us to the front of the line. We would NOT have made our connection otherwise. Like you, I was feeling mostly OK about the 5 hours we had "budgeted" to get from airport to airport, but flying from JFK ate up that time (due to notorious, I've learned, delays flying out of that airport). I would not chance that kind of connection again from JFK. We chose the bus over the trains because we each had quite a bit of luggage.
posted by ersatzkat at 2:41 PM on July 5, 2007

I've ridden the Gatwick Express. It's not terribly cheap, but it seemed like the easiest way to get from Gatwick into town and into the Tube system. (I was hurrying from Gatwick to Paddington [I think...?] to get on the Eurostar/Chunnel-train to Brussels.)

I can't remember how much time I had from Gatwick to the train, but it was pretty tight, and FWIW I made the train. (Although I got all my nail-scissors, etc. confiscated as I was getting on the train, grrr.) The Gatwick Express ran on time as I recall.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:31 PM on July 5, 2007

I'd be tempted to go with the train option just because it gives you more room to make on-the-fly decisions, such as whether you have enough time to take the tube to Heathrow or whether you need to head to Paddington for the Express. If you hit traffic or an accident on the M25, you're stuck on the M25. Friday morning after 9am shouldn't be too bad, though.

Either way, if you don't have a mobile phone that works in the UK, see if you can get the number of the JAT desk in Heathrow in advance in case you need to beg a lend of someone's phone.

Flying eastwards across the Atlantic, I've generally arrived earlier than the stated arrival time -- thanks, Gulf Stream -- unless there's been a significant delay in departure.
posted by holgate at 3:40 PM on July 5, 2007

In case anyone reading this is planning any future trips, I have to say I think the Gatwick Express is a rip-off. It costs £6 more than taking a Southern train which takes one to eight minutes longer for the trip might actually get you there faster, depending on when you leave.

Similarly, if you have to take the Tube to get to Paddington, you quickly lose the time advantage of the Heathrow Express, and again when you have to wait up to 15 minutes for it as opposed to a Piccadilly Line train every five minutes. So I think it is a rip-off too.

But if every minute counts, then the Gatwick Express is still slightly faster than Southern 52 times out of 60.
posted by grouse at 4:24 PM on July 5, 2007

Seconding the 'stopped when not having checked in luggage' and (thirding? fourthing?) the tubes. Personally, I prefer the paddington express.
posted by Arthur Dent at 4:54 PM on July 5, 2007

Thameslink trains from Gatwick are notably cheaper than the Express, and go to King's Cross. There, the Piccadilly line tube is downstairs (no further changes required), and beyond that and up an escalator are Circle line trains to Paddington.

[Don't get on an otherwise-identical Hammersmith and City line tube from the latter platform to Paddington; it drops you at the far, far, far end Paddington station.]
posted by genghis at 6:27 PM on July 5, 2007

Gatwick Express to Victoria. Circle Line to Paddington. Heathrow Express direct to Heathrow (15 minutes). Don't take the tube, it takes nearly an hour.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:19 AM on July 6, 2007

45 minutes, actually. Which is about as long as it takes to get from Victoria to Heathrow via tube and Heathrow Express.

Actually I have just checked the timetables and from Victoria to Terminal 4, District+Piccadilly Line is faster than Tube+Heathrow Express 49 times out of 60.
posted by grouse at 5:05 AM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: Update: the National Express not only worked perfectly, with an hour to spare, but was the ONLY element of the entire journey (plane, bus or shuttle) that left on schedule and was problem-free. :)
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:23 AM on October 11, 2007

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