City Vs Southend – Which Smaller London Airport Is Best?

London is served by six airports: two giants, two norms and two titches. Read on to discover which of the titches has the edge: London City or London Southend.

Southend airport
Which titch wins the day? Photo: Chris J Wood via Wikimedia


London City (LCY) is seven miles east of the City of London. It is a domestic and international destination within the heart of London’s financial district. That makes City airport an attractive target of the seasoned business traveler.

London City Airport
London City Airport is close to the financial district. Photo: James Petts via Flickr

LCY’s runway runs parallel with Gallions Point Marina. Gallions Point was once part of the Victorian Royal Docks. The site’s proximity to both the City of London and Canary Wharf was what first tempted engineering company Mowlem to develop the airfield in the mid-1980s.

City was bought by a Canadian consortium in 2016. In the following year, according to the CAA, the airport processed over 4.5 million passengers and serviced 80,000 aircraft movements. It continues to be the fifth busiest airport in the London area.

By the use of 14 hi-definition cameras and remote sensing technology, all movements at City are controlled remotely from a nerve center at Swanwick near Southampton. The UK’s first all-digital remote ATC tower is being trialed before being put into service later this year.


Southend was established during the First World War. After the war, the station was abandoned and the site reclaimed by local farmers. It was later requisitioned for WW2. After decades of losses due to its less-than-favorable location and distance from London, Southend began to make money.

Southend terminal interior
Rejuvenation came in 2008 with the purchase of the airport by Stobart. Photo: Chris J Wood via Wikimedia

Growth was bolstered in 2008 by the acquisition of the airfield by the Stobart Group. Sizeable investment prepared the airport for the following ten years of substantial growth. The 2012 runway extension ensured Southend’s future as an international destination.

Airlines operating regularly to and from Southend include Ryanair, Loganair, Air Malta and easyJet. Today, about one million passengers pass through the international airport annually compared to more than 75 million at Heathrow.



According to a study published in The Standard in 2017 Southend is, “the best airport in the capital”. The Which? survey revealed Southend was, by its customers, ranked number one for customer satisfaction. Of the result, a Which? spokesman told The Standard,

Passengers at these smaller airports told us that they breezed through well-equipped, queue-free terminals aided by friendly staff. The experience was so good, in fact, that some told us they are willing to drive that bit further to use a better airport.”

Southend is a passenger favorite. Photo: Terryjoyce via Wikimedia

Furthermore, travelers using Southend believed their flights were less affected by the ubiquitous delays encountered by flights entering congested London airspace. This, they considered, outweighed the paucity of SEN’s on-site amenities, which continue to be sub-par.


City airport, on the other hand, is a more convenient destination for travelers who have a desire to land just outside the old city walls.

London City Airport
Being so close to the city is a major advantage for some. Photo: Richard Fisher via Flickr

Flights to and from LCY tend to be short-haul point-to-point within Europe. Passengers alighting at City have the benefit of the automated DLR (Docklands Light Railway) which links the airport with underground and overground railway stations in the City.

The airport is rarely busy and caters more for the business traveler. Not found within the airport terminal are the usual outlets geared up for holidaymakers and romantics.

The airport is also known for its steep-descent final approach… not for the faint-hearted.


Overall, the choice of airport will come down to which provides the service you need. Not every airline flies to either City or Southend, so your choice of departure point or entry point to London will very much be dictated by the airline.

Should the cost and convenience of departure be similar, there are other factors that come into play. If you’re heading into London city center, then clearly LCY is a top place to land. However, if you’re heading elsewhere in the UK, especially in the east or southeast, then SEN is going to provide an easier way to get out of town.

Which airport would you pick as your favorite? Let us know in the comments.