Getting to Britain

Arriving by air

Britain has approximately 130 licensed airports, only a handful of which deal with long-haul traffic. The largest one, London’s Heathrow, is the world’s busiest international airport and one of Europe’s main routing points for international air travel. Heathrow is served by most of the world’s leading airlines, with direct flights from nearly all major cities. Other international airports include Gatwick and Stansted in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Smaller airports, such as London City, Bristol, Norwich and Cardiff, have daily flights to Europe. Strict anti-terrorist measures are in force at all airports.


British Airports

Britain’s airports have excellent facilities, especially the largest ones, including 24-hour banking, shops, cafés, hotels and restaurants. Security is strict at all British airports, so it may take some time to get through passport control and customs. It is important never to leave your luggage unattended.

There are five airports around London: the two largest, Heathrow, east of the city, and Gatwick, to the south, handle flights from every part of the world, and the smaller Stansted, Luton and London City have flights to other parts of the UK, Europe and North Africa. Many low-cost flights to European destinations operate from Stansted or Luton, both north of the city.

Most flights to Britain from the USA or Canada arrive at one of the two main London airports, Heathrow or Gatwick. In the rest of Britain, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow also have long-distance flights, especially from North America, and there are many smaller regional airports such as Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds-Bradford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh or Aberdeen, which have flight connections to many parts of the UK, Ireland and Europe, especially with low-cost airlines. The main airlines with transatlantic routes are British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, United, Delta, US Airways and Air Canada, but some other carriers (Icelandair, Norwegian) offer lower-cost flights.

Heathrow has five terminals and other airports often have more than one. Before you fly, check which terminal your flight arrives at or leaves from. The five Heathrow terminals and two at Gatwick are connected by free shuttles or trains. To change between Heathrow and Gatwick, frequent buses take about 75 minutes.

Buses to Stansted or Luton airports take 1 hour–90 minutes from Heathrow and 2–3 hours from Gatwick, so remember this when planning flight connections.


Transport from the Airport

Britain’s international airports lie some way from the city centres, but transport to and from them is efficient. The most convenient form of door-to-door travel is a taxi, but it is also the most expensive. In addition, taxis can be slow if there is road congestion. This is also a problem with buses or coaches, although they are a lot cheaper.

Heathrow and Newcastle airports are linked to the city centres by the Underground, which is efficient, quick and cheap. Visitors to London arriving at Heathrow can also take the Heathrow Express, the fast train to Paddington Station ( or
0845 600 1515). Trains run every 15 minutes from 5am until around midnight, taking 15 minutes from Terminals 1, 2 and 3, and 21 minutes from Terminal 5. Terminal 4 requires a change of train and takes a total of 23 minutes. Those arriving at Gatwick can take the Gatwick Express to London Victoria ( or
0845 850 15 30). Trains run every 15 minutes and take 30 minutes. Stansted and Manchester also have regular express trains that are not too expensive and are a reliable method for travelling into the heart of the city.

National Express coaches provide direct connections from major airports (London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, Luton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Coventry, East Midlands and Bristol) to many British destinations. They also have a regular service between Gatwick and Heathrow.


Travelling Within Britain by Air

Internal air travel in Britain only makes sense over long distances, where it can save a great deal of time – for example, London to Scotland, or to one of the many offshore islands. Fares can be expensive, but if you book well ahead, they can be up to three times cheaper than if you just turn up at the airport. The British Airways shuttle flights that operate between London and cities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester are very popular with business travellers. At peak times of the day, flights leave every hour, while at other times there is usually a flight every two hours. Even on domestic flights, security is strict.


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