Air Travel

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Air Travel

The least expensive airfares to England are often priced for round-trip travel and must usually be purchased in advance. Airlines generally allow you to change your return date for a fee; most low-fare tickets, however, are nonrefundable.

Flying time to London is about 6½ hours from New York, 7½ hours from Chicago, 9 hours from Dallas, 10 hours from Los Angeles, and 21½ hours from Sydney. From London, flights take an hour to Paris or Amsterdam, 1½ hours to cities in Switzerland or Luxembourg, and 2 hours to Rome.

If you're flying from England, plan to arrive at the airport 90 minutes in advance for flights to Europe, 2 hours for the United States. Security at Gatwick and Heathrow airports is always fairly intense. Most people can expect to be patted down after they pass through metal detectors. Travelers are randomly searched again at the gate before transatlantic flights.

Airline Security Issues

Transportation Security Administration (866/289–9673 in U.S. www.tsa.gov.)

Airports

Most international flights to London arrive at either Heathrow Airport (LHR), 15 miles west of London, or at Gatwick Airport (LGW), 27 miles south of the capital. Most flights from the United States go to Heathrow, with Terminals 3, 4, and 5 handling transatlantic flights (British Airways uses Terminal 5). Gatwick is London's second gateway, serving many U.S. destinations. A third, much smaller airport, Stansted (STN), is 40 miles northeast of the city. It handles mainly European and domestic traffic.

London City Airport (LCY), a small airport inside the city near Canary Wharf, has twice-daily business-class flights to New York on British Airways, as well as flights to European destinations. Luton Airport (LLA), 32 miles north of the city, is also quite small, and serves British and European destinations. Luton is the hub for low-cost easyJet. Manchester (MAN) in northwest England handles some flights from the United States, as does Birmingham (BHX).

Heathrow and Gatwick are enormous and can seem like shopping malls. Both airports have bars and pubs and dining options. Several hotels are connected to each airport, and both Gatwick and Heathrow are near dozens of hotels that run free shuttles to the airports. Heathrow has a Hotel Hoppa service that runs shuttles between the airport and around 20 nearby hotels for £4 each way. A free, subsidized local bus service operates between the Central Bus Station serving Terminals 1, 2, and 3 and nearby hotels. You can find out more at the Central Bus Station or at the Transport for London (TfL) Information Centre in the Underground station serving Terminals 1, 2, and 3. Yotel has budget pod hotels in both Heathrow and Gatwick with cabin-size rooms to be booked in advance in four-hour blocks or overnight. Prices begin at about £50, depending on how long you stay and the time of day.

In comparison, other British airports have much more limited shopping, hotel, and dining options; a delay of a few hours can seem like years.

Airport Information

Birmingham Airport (0871/222–0072. www.birminghamairport.co.uk.)

Gatwick Airport (0844/892–0322. www.gatwickairport.com.)

Heathrow Airport (0844/335–1801. www.heathrowairport.com.)

London City Airport (0207/646–0088. www.londoncityairport.com.)

Luton Airport (01582/405100. www.london-luton.co.uk.)

Manchester Airport (0871/271–0711. www.manchesterairport.co.uk.)

Stansted Airport (0844/355–1803. www.stanstedairport.com.)

Ground Transportation

London has excellent bus and train connections between its airports and downtown. Train service can be the fastest, but the downside is that you must get yourself and your luggage to the terminal, often via a series of escalators and connecting trams. Airport buses (generally run by National Express) may be located nearer to the terminals and drop you closer to central hotels, but they're subject to London traffic, which can be horrendous. Taxis can be more convenient than buses, but prices can go through the roof.

The Transport for London website has helpful information, as does Airport Travel Line. The official sites for Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stansted are useful resources for transportation options.

Heathrow by Bus: National Express buses take around 90 minutes (longer at peak time) to reach the city center (Victoria Coach Station) and cost £6 to £8.50 one-way and £13.20 round-trip. Buses leave every 30 to 75 minutes from 4:20 am to 10 pm. The National Express Hotel Hoppa service runs from all terminals to around 20 hotels near the airport (£4). Alternatively, nearly every hotel in London is served by the Hotel By Bus service. Fares to Central London begin at £22.50. SkyShuttle also offers a minibus service between Heathrow and any London hotel. The N9 night bus runs every 20 minutes from 11:45 pm to 5 am to Kensington, Trafalgar Square, and Aldwych; it takes about 75 minutes and costs £2.20.

Heathrow by Train: The cheap, direct route into London is via the Piccadilly line of the Underground (London's extensive subway system, or "Tube"). Trains normally run every three to seven minutes from all terminals from around 5 am until just before midnight. The 50-minute trip into central London costs £5 and connects with other central Tube lines. The Heathrow Express train is comfortable and very convenient, if costly, speeding into London's Paddington Station in 15 minutes. Standard one-way tickets cost £20, or £28 for first class. Book online for the lowest fares. If you arrive without tickets you should purchase them at a kiosk before you board, as they’re more expensive on the train. There's daily service from 5:12 am (5:08 am on Sunday) to 11:45 pm (11:53 pm on Sunday), with departures every 15 minutes. A less expensive option is the Heathrow Connect train, which stops at local stations between the airport and Paddington. Daily service is every half hour from 5:23 am (6:07 am on Sunday) to 12:01 am. The journey takes about 30 minutes and costs £9.50 one-way.

Gatwick by Bus: Hourly bus service runs from Gatwick's north and south terminals to Victoria Coach Station with stops at Hooley, Coulsdon, Mitcham, Streatham, Stockwell, and Pimlico. The journey takes two hours and costs between £6.50 and £8 one-way. Make sure you get on a direct bus not requiring a change; otherwise the journey could take much longer. The easyBus service runs a service to Earls Court in west London from as little as £2; the later the ticket is booked online, the higher the price (up to £10 on board).

Gatwick by Train: The fast, nonstop Gatwick Express leaves for Victoria Station every 15 minutes 4:35 am–1:35 am. The 30-minute trip costs £19.90 one-way. Book in advance, as tickets cost more on board. The First Capital Connect rail company's nonexpress services are cheaper. Trains runs regularly throughout the day until midnight to St. Pancras International, London Bridge, and Blackfriars stations; daytime departures are every 10–25 minutes (hourly between 1:30 am and 5 am), and the journey takes 30 to 45 minutes. Tickets are from £10 one way to St. Pancras. You can also reach Gatwick by First Capital Connect coming from Brighton in the opposite direction. First Capital Connect service is on commuter trains, and during rush hour trains can be crowded, with little room for baggage and seats at a premium.

Stansted by Bus: Hourly service on National Express Airport bus A6 (24 hours a day) to Victoria Coach Station costs from £10 one-way, and takes 85–108 minutes. Stops include Golders Green, Finchley Road, St. John's Wood, Baker Street, Marble Arch, and Hyde Park Corner. The easyBus service to Victoria via Baker Street costs from £2. The Terravision bus goes to Liverpool Street station and costs £8. Travel is extended to Victoria Coach Station between 8 pm and 6 am, and the fare is £9. Travel time is 60 minutes.

Stansted by Train: The Stansted Express to Liverpool Street Station (with a stop at Tottenham Hale) runs every 15 minutes 5:30 am–12:30 am daily (until 1:30 am Friday and Saturday). The 45-minute trip costs £23.40 each way if booked online. Tickets cost more on board.

Luton by Bus and Train: A free airport shuttle runs from Luton Airport to the nearby Luton Airport Parkway Station, where you can take a train or bus into London. From there, the First Capital Connect train service runs to St. Pancras, Farringdon, Blackfriars, and London Bridge. The journey takes about 40 minutes. Trains leave every 10 minutes or so from 5 am until midnight, hourly at other times. One-way tickets begin at £13.50. The Terravision Shuttle bus runs from Luton to Victoria Coach Station, with departures every 20 to 30 minutes during peak hours. The journey takes around an hour, with fares from £10 each way. The Green Line 757 bus service from Luton to Victoria Station runs every 15 to 30 minutes between 7 am and midnight, takes 60 to 90 minutes, and costs from £10, while an easyBus shuttle has tickets starting from £2. National Express runs coaches from Victoria Coach Station to Luton for £15.

Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton by Taxi: This is an expensive and time-consuming option. If your destination is within the city's congestion zone, £10 will be added to the bill during charging hours. If you get stuck in traffic, a taxi from the stand will be even more expensive; a cab booked ahead is a set price. A taxi trip from Heathrow to Victoria, for example, can take more than an hour and cost more than £58. Private hire cars may be the same price or even less—at this writing, the fee to Victoria Station is about £50 from Heathrow and £100 from Gatwick and Stansted, not including the congestion charge. Another option, if you have friends in the London area, is to have them book a reputable minicab firm to pick you up. The cost of a minicab from Heathrow to central London is approximately £47. Your hotel may also be able to recommend a car service.

Transfers Between Airports

Allow at least two to three hours for transferring between airports. The National Express Airport bus is the most direct option between Gatwick and Heathrow. Buses depart from Gatwick every 5–35 minutes between 5:35 am to 11:35 am (every hour from 1:50 am to 5:35 am) and from Heathrow every 5–35 minutes from 2:35 am to 12:35 am. The trip takes 45 to 95 minutes, and the fare is £27.50 each way. Book tickets in advance. National Express buses between Stansted and Gatwick depart every 30 to 75 minutes and take between 3 and 4½ hours. The one-way fare is from £18 to £31.50. Some airlines may offer shuttle services as well—check with your airline before your journey.

The cheapest option—but most complicated—is public transportation: from Gatwick to Stansted, for instance, catch the Gatwick Express train from Gatwick to Victoria Station, take the Tube to Liverpool Street Station, then hop on the train to Stansted. Alternatively, take the Thameslink train to Farringdon and transfer to the Tube bound for Liverpool Street. From Heathrow to Gatwick, take the Tube to King's Cross/St. Pancras, then take the Thameslink train to Gatwick, or else transfer from the Piccadilly Line to the District/Circle Line at Hammersmith, head to Victoria Station, and take the Gatwick Express.

All this should get much easier when the new Crossrail service debuts in 2014. It will travel directly from Heathrow to Liverpool Street Station for Stansted connections and directly to Farringdon for the Thameslink to Gatwick.

Contacts

Crossrail (0345/602–3813. www.crossrail.co.uk.)

easyBus (www.easybus.co.uk.)

First Capital Connect (0845/748-4950. www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk.)

Gatwick Express (0845/850–1530. www.gatwickexpress.com.)

Green Line (0844/800–4411. www.greenline.co.uk.)

Heathrow Connect (0845/678–6975. www.heathrowconnect.com.)

Heathrow Express (0845/600–1515. www.heathrowexpress.com.)

Hotel By Bus (0845/850–1900. www.hotelbybus.com.)

National Express (0871/781–8178. www.nationalexpress.com.)

SkyShuttle (0845/481–0960. www.skyshuttle.co.uk.)

Stansted Express (0845/600–7245. www.stanstedexpress.com.)

Terravision (01279/662–931. www.terravision.eu/london.html.)

Transport for London (0843/222–1234. www.tfl.gov.uk.)

Traveline (0871/200–2233. www.traveline.info.)

Flights

British Airways offers mostly nonstop flights from 28 U.S. cities to Heathrow, along with flights to Manchester and Birmingham and a vast program of discount airfare–hotel packages. Britain-based Virgin Atlantic is a strong competitor in terms of packages. London is a very popular destination, so many U.S. carriers have flights and packages, too.

Because England is such a small country, internal air travel is much less important than it is in the United States. For trips of less than 200 miles, trains are often quicker because rail stations are more centrally located. Flying tends to cost more, but for longer trips air travel has a considerable time advantage (you need to factor in time to get to and from the airport, though).

British Airways operates shuttle services between Heathrow or Gatwick and Manchester, while Virgin's Little Red takes you from London to Manchester, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. Low-cost airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair offer flights within the United Kingdom as well as to cities in Ireland and continental Europe. Prices are low, but these airlines usually fly out of smaller British airports such as Stansted and Luton, both near London. Check www.cheapflights.com for price comparisons.

Major Airline Contacts

American Airlines (800/433–7300; 0844/499–7300 in U.K. www.aa.com.)

British Airways (800/247–9297; 0844/493–0787 in U.K. www.britishairways.com.)

Delta Airlines (800/241–4141 international reservations; 0871/221–1222 in U.K. www.delta.com.)

United Airlines (800/864–8331 in U.S.; 0845/607–6760 in U.K. www.united.com.)

US Airways (800/428–4322 for U.S. and Canada reservations; 0845/600–3300 in U.K. www.usairways.com.)

Virgin Atlantic (800/862–8621; 0800/874–7747 in U.K. www.virgin-atlantic.com.)

Within England and to Europe

easyJet (0871/244–2377. www.easyjet.com.)

Ryanair (0871/246–0000. www.ryanair.com.)

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