London’s Six Airports – How Do They Compare?

During regular times, London is the busiest city in terms of passenger numbers. Indeed, in 2019, 181 million passengers passed through the city’s airports. This is mostly helped by the fact that six airports serve the city. However, how do they all compare? Simple Flying decided to find out.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
London has six airports, but how do they compare? Photo: London Heathrow

1. London Heathrow

London Heathrow is known across the globe. This airport is the seventh busiest in the world, making it the busiest in the United Kingdom, and thus also London. In 2019 it handled 81 million passengers. This means that 45% of London’s passengers used the airport last year.

Heathrow Airport’s history stretches back to 1926. However, the beginnings of the airport that we know today were opened as London Airport in March 1946. The airport was renamed to Heathrow Airport in 1966.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports. Photo: London Heathrow Airport

Today, Heathrow Airport has two parallel runways, 09L-27R and 09R-27L. There are four terminals at London Heathrow Airport, three of which sit sandwiched between the two runways. Terminal 2 and 3 are located in the center of the field, with Terminal 5 on the west side and Terminal 4 on the south. Currently, only Terminals 2 and 5 are open. These are the youngest terminals. Passengers can get a free ticket to use on train services between the terminals. Low-cost carriers tend to avoid Heathrow.

Heathrow Airport is the home of British flag carrier British Airways, which controls a significant area of land at the east of the airport. More recently, with the announcement that it has scrapped its Gatwick home, rival Virgin Atlantic has also moved its base to the airport.

Heathrow is the closest major airport to central London, with a 15-minute train ride taking passengers from Terminals 2 and 3 to London Paddington.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
The airport acts as the central hub for Britain’s two leading full-service carriers. Photo: Getty Images

2. London Gatwick

Clocking in at Number 2 is London Gatwick Airport. Gatwick is located to the South of London, and while it has two runways, only one is in use at any given time. However, a year ago, the airport set in motion plans to use its backup runway for departing aircraft to increase capacity.

In 2019, Gatwick Airport handled 46.6 million passengers, just over half of that of Heathrow, and around 26% of London’s total traffic. However, due to a vast drop in passenger demand in the spring, Gatwick was, for a time, less busy than London Luton Airport.

London Gatwick Airport has two terminals, North and South. The South Terminal is connected to the airport’s railway station. The airport is around half an hour from Central London via the Gatwick Express. Passengers must take a people mover to get between the two terminals.

Gatwick aerial view
An aerial view of Gatwick showing the main runway, with the backup second runway. Photo: Getty Images

Virgin Atlantic used to be based at Gatwick Airport before pulling out with the retirement of its 747s earlier this year. With British Airways focusing on London Heathrow for the time being, and Norwegian operating a handful of flights, easyJet and LCC is currently the airport’s leading airline.

3. London Stansted

London Stansted is the third busiest London Airport and the fourth busiest British airport. While London Gatwick has a mix of full service and low-cost carriers, London Stansted is firmly the realm of the LCC with a few exceptions in standard times, such as Emirates. In 2019 Stansted Airport handled 28 million passengers, 15.5% of London’s total.

With one Runway, 04-22, the airport is the UK’s busiest, truly single-runway airport. Since 2013 it has been owned by the Manchester Airport Group. While orange may be the color currently dominating Gatwick, at Stansted, it is yellow and blue.

Ryanair, Passenger Numbers, UK Quarantine
Stansted is the main base for European LCC Ryanair. Photo: Stansted Airport

Without a doubt, Ryanair has the most extensive airline presence at London’s main low-cost hub. Indeed, for Ryanair, Stansted is its largest hub, more extensive than its Dublin HQ. easyJet recently closed its Stansted Base, but still maintains services to the airport from other bases. London Stansted typically plays host to Air Force One when the President of the United States is in London.

London Stansted only has one terminal. However, from this are several satellite terminals. Typically two are accessed by a people mover. The airport also has a large cargo presence. Indeed, before ending its wet lease agreement, British Airways’ cargo Boeing 747-8s were based at the airport. It takes around 45 minutes to get into Central London from the airport’s train station.

4. London Luton

London Luton Airport comes forth out of the city’s six airports, and fifth for passenger traffic overall in the UK. In 2019 it handled 16.8 million passengers, around 9% of London’s total. However, around April, it was the second busiest airport ahead of Gatwick and Stansted.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
Taxiways surround the terminal at Luton Airport. Photo: London Luton Airport

Historically, London Luton has been home to easyJet. However, more recently, another airport has placed a flag in the ground. Hungary’s Wizz Air is another primary user of the airport. It was Wizz that kept Luton busy when many airlines, such as easyJet, suspended most if not all of their services.

Luton Airport has one terminal that is surrounded by taxiways. As such, a tunnel must be used to access the airport. The facility also has just one runway, 07-25. The airport is also popular with private jets but has no train station on site. Instead, passengers must take a bus to Luton Airport Parkway. From here, it takes an average of 40 minutes to reach Central London.

5. London City

London City is the closest airport to Central London. The airport is located just off of the river Thames and is 21 minutes away from Bank station with a direct connection on the Docklands Light Railway.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
London City Airport is located within the London Borough of Newham. Photo: London City Airport

London City has one runway, oriented 09-27, like at London Heathrow. Additionally, London City has one terminal. In 2019 the airport handled 4.8 million passengers, equalling around 2.7% of London’s total.

Typically London City’s services have been focused on business travel. However, due to its small size, its capacity, and therefore the number of destinations is limited. British Airways is the airport’s primary operator, with services from Lufthansa, Alitalia, LOT Air Polish, and others also using the airport.

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The airport is currently in the midst of a significant construction project to increase its capacity. Following the completion of the current phase, including a new taxiway, the project will be put on hold.

6. London Southend

Last but by no means least is London’s Southend Airport. Southend Airport handled just 1.5 million passengers in 2019. This equates to approximately 0.8% of London’s total traffic. Historically Southend was London’s third busiest airport before the arrival of London Stansted.

London Airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, Southend
Southend Airport’s terminal was opened in 2012. Photo: Stobart Group

Today London Southend has one runway, 05/23, in addition to one terminal which was opened in 2012. Recently easyJet pulled out of the airport, leaving Ryanair as the leading airline. Wizz also operates a single route from the airport.

London Southend has a dedicated train station a short walk (100 paces according to the airport) from the terminal. From here, trains to London Liverpool Street take 52 minutes.

Which London Airport is your favorite? Let us know why in the comments!