We love London, but flying in and out of its primary airport is hardly our favorite part of the trip. Heathrow is known for notoriously long security and immigration lines, crowded taxiways, and busy terminals. We often wonder, though, why some of that griping hasn’t led to more discussion around the city's three other commercial airports. You might hear more about them in coming years, as increasing numbers of U.S. passengers head through these smaller airports both directly from the U.S. and on their way to other places in Europe. Here's a quick rundown.
Gatwick: Gatwick is no second-tier airport, despite handling many fewer passengers than Heathrow. In fact, more than 35 million flyers passed through its gates last year. While few airlines currently fly direct to this airport from the U.S., budget carrier Norwegian Airlines is launching new routes there from New York, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles in July, and other airlines will likely follow. In the meantime, we also like the idea of making Gatwick a great second stop once you're already in Europe. Simply fly from the U.S. into another European hub (Barcelona, Dublin, Amsterdam, etc.) and then connect into Gatwick for an inexpensive way to get to England. Most of the European carriers that serve Gatwick – Ryanair, Monarch, easyJet, Aer Lingus, and Thomas Cook Airlines, to name a few – are low-cost carriers, which could help shave hundreds off a pricey direct flight into Heathrow.
Stansted: London’s third most popular airport serves a host of locales within greater Europe, such as Dubrovnik, Glasgow, Salzburg, Palma de Mallorca, and Ibiza. If you’re camped out on vacation somewhere in the region, there’s a good chance that Ryanair or EasyJet can get you to London for less than $100 each way. Plus, $15 trains run between Stansted Airport and London Liverpool Street from early until late, and long-distance services link the airport with Cambridgeshire and the Midlands. After all, there’s more to England than just London.
Luton: This quiet airport is perhaps the most hassle-free way to enter London from other places in Europe and Asia, and despite coming in fourth for local air traffic, nearly a dozen airlines fly here. It's a good way to fly in from Tel Aviv, Romania, and a host of other far-flung locales, since Luton offers smaller crowds at immigration. That said, Luton lacks variety when it comes to eateries and lounges, and it's relatively short-staffed. Low-cost carriers tend to flock here, so you’ll save a hefty amount of cash on airfare if you’re willing to deal with fewer perks. The mass transit options aren’t as plentiful here, but there are a handful of buses that’ll get you owntown in under an hour.