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Gatwick is a perfectly good airport with convenient connections in to the center of London.

Some people feel they've suffered 'second best' if their flight uses Gatwick, but there's no reason to feel that way.

 
 
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London Gatwick Airport (LGW)

London's other major longhaul gateway airport with plenty of services to/from the US
 

Gatwick Airport Air Bridge
Photo credit www.globalphotos.org

This is the air passenger bridge between Gatwick's North Terminal and outlying satellite, completed in 2005.  It is the world's longest air passenger bridge, and spans over the top of an airplane taxiway.

Part four of a seven part series on London's airports - please also visit

1.  About London's airports in General
2.  London's Best and Worst Airports and Why
3.  London Heathrow Airport LHR

4.  London Gatwick Airport LGW
5.  London Stansted Airport STN
6.  London Luton Airport LTN
7.  London City Airport LCY

 

 

London's Gatwick Airport has perhaps suffered from always being London's 'second' airport.

But being second largest doesn't mean it is also second best, and most people traveling through Gatwick will find it an easy convenient airport to fly in or out of, and a great airport to transit through, allowing for much simpler connections that Heathrow.

Easy train service in to London, and with trains traveling to several different parts of London, give you added flexibility, and when the airport is purchased by a new owner, it is possible that the increased competition may see further positive developments occur.

An introduction to London Gatwick Airport (LGW)

Gatwick is a large and busy airport, but is only about half the size of Heathrow.  It is the second largest airport in the UK, and its website claims it to be the tenth busiest in the world.

Notably, Gatwick is also the busiest single runway airport in the world, and serves around 80 airlines, who fly to 220 destinations (fewer airlines, but more destinations than Heathrow).

Two terminals serve Gatwick's single runway, with round the clock operations all year long.

The History of London Gatwick Airport

The name, Gatwick, dates back to 1241 when Richard de Warwick assigned his rights to some land to John de Gatwick and his heirs.  The land was part of what was later known as the Manor of Gatwick.

The airport itself dates back to 1930, when land adjacent to what had become a race course became the Surrey Flying Club.  It received a public license, allowing it to operate commercial flights, in 1934, and has been a public commercial airport ever since, with two notable exceptions - during the second world war, and when the airport closed for major renovation in the 1950s.

Gatwick suffered a setback in 1937 when British Airways moved its operations to Croydon, but after Croydon's closure and Heathrow taking over as main London airport, BA subsequently returned flights to Gatwick too.

During WW2, the airport was taken over by the RAF (1939-1945).  And then in 1952, Gatwick was given governmental approval to be developed as an alternate to Heathrow as London's second airport, and in preference to Stansted which had been the other major contender for this title.  This caused the airport to close, eventually, in 1956 for 2.75 years before being officially reopened by the Queen in 1958.

Since that time the airport has steadily grown in passenger numbers.  A second runway was built, starting in 1985, parallel to the main runway, but this second runway was downgraded to an 'alternate' runway rather than a second runway that could be used simultaneously with the first runway, and is mainly used as a taxiway.

Gatwick's Two Terminals

Gatwick's terminal was initially a converted farmhouse.

In 1936, Gatwick's first custom-designed/built terminal was opened, a distinctive art-deco style building that became known as 'The Beehive'.  This was a circular three level building, with passengers gaining access to the structure via a subway.

This building served as the main terminal building until the decision to extend Gatwick was made in 1952 and development began.  As part of this, the A23 road was diverted and now runs between the building and the rest of the airport, making the Beehive no longer practical as an airplane terminal.

Although no longer in use as part of the airport, the building is still there and now provides serviced office space for a variety of tenants.  The building is significant for having been the world's first integrated airport building, the first to allow under-cover access to aircraft, and the first to be combined with a railway station.

The Beehive was replaced with what is now known as the South Terminal, which opened as part of the airport's re-opening in 1958.

An extension to the South Terminal was added in 1983, at which time work then commenced on a complete second terminal, now known as the North Terminal, which opened in 1988.

A notable part of the North Terminal is the extension added in 2005, which connects a further eleven gates to the main structure, with the outlying structure being connected to the main building via the world's largest air passenger bridge, which goes over the top of an airplane taxiway, giving lucky passengers an unusual view from the top down onto planes underneath them as they move about the airport.

Future Plans for Gatwick

Gatwick has been one of the three London Airports owned by BAA, but was put up for sale in 2008 as part of a requirement that BAA break up what was perceived as being a virtual monopoly on London's airports.

A purchaser has not yet been announced (bids are now due to be lodged by the end of April 2009, with apparently three major groups participating), and Gatwick's future must be considered as being somewhat dependent on who purchases the airport and how its new owners attempt to move forward.

Update, Oct 2009 :  It has now been announced that Gatwick has been purchased by Global Infrastructure Partners, the owners of London City Airport, for 1.51 billion.  This was apparently considerably less than BAA hoped to realize on the, and the change of ownership is scheduled for December 2009.

However, like most other airports in Britain, Gatwick's future is massively constrained by the overwhelmingly negative attitude to any airport expansion.  The airport has an agreement with the local council not to expand prior to 2019, and there's doubt about how much it could expand after that time, even though the airport would probably like to add a second runway if it could get approval.

The airport can handle more than 40 million passengers a year, and currently has just under 35 million.  So, allowing for the airport to exceed its design capacity, there is clearly appreciable growth available without the need for substantial expansion (such as extra runways or terminal buildings).  Current projections see Gatwick reaching the 40 million passengers/year level by about 2018, making the 2019 expiry of its no-growth agreement with the local council all the more relevant.

Plans for an extra runway at Gatwick became a lot less likely in May 2010, when the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government in Britain announced it would oppose any plans for an extra runway at Gatwick (and it would also oppose extra runways at Stansted and Heathrow).

Connecting between Terminals

Connecting between Gatwick's two terminals is easy and quick.

There is an airside (ie on the secure side of the terminal) bus service, and a public side shuttle tram service that operates either every three minutes (in peak times) or every six minutes (in offpeak times).

The buses take five or so minutes, and operate every 10 - 15 minutes.  The trams take a quick 2 minutes for their journey.

Connections into London

By road - car, bus, shuttle, taxi

Gatwick has direct access immediately on to the short M23 motorway, which itself quickly links to the M25 motorway around London.  With the other London airports also relatively close to motorway links (except for London City) this makes driving between airports moderately easy, and driving to the airport from somewhere else not too difficult.

Bus service between London and Gatwick's North Terminal is offered by easyBus.  This company operates 19 seater mini-buses seven days a week, with services to Gatwick starting at 6am and the last bus leaving at 10pm, while services from Gatwick to London start at 6.40am with the last bus leaving at 11pm.

It is about a 70 minute nonstop journey between the airport and the Fulham Broadway Underground Station; services operate every 20 minutes and sometimes every 30 minutes.

The cost ranges from a low of 2 each way to a high of 10.  Lowest prices apply to online advance booking, highest prices to paying cash to the driver on the day.

National Express offers coach services to other places in England.

Dot2dot shuttle service also operates between many central London hotels and Gatwick.  The fare is about 25 one way and you should plan on about a 2 hr 10 minute journey time, depending on where your hotel is and if you're the first or last stop on the route.

Taxi service is also available, of course.  Black cabs from Gatwick in to central London will probably cost you something over 80.  If you're returning back to the airport, you should consider using a 'Minicab' service which will probably cost about half what a Black Cab would cost.

Most hotels will arrange a Minicab for you, but they often add an extra charge onto the cab's fee, so if you are able to find a Minicab service in the area of your hotel and arrange with them directly, that may save you money.  On the other hand, detractors of this idea would point out that Minicabs are not as rigorously quality controlled as Black Cabs, and there is the risk you might get a bad car, a bad driver, or not be collected on time as arranged.

So, you pay your money and take your chances.  If you have friends in London, they may be able to recommend a cab service for you.  About the closest thing to an 'official' listing of Minicab companies is this one on the Transport for London website - at least, if you choose a Minicab operator from this list, you know you're dealing with an officially licensed company.

Underground

There is no underground service to Gatwick.

Train

A rail station opened at Gatwick way back in 1935, and the airport has offered train connections in to London since that time - primarily to Victoria Station, but more recently there have been trains extending on to other places, including direct service to Luton airport.

The best known service is the Gatwick Express.  This service, active since 1984, operates between the airport and London's Victoria station, with nonstop service every 15 minutes, and a 30 minute train journey.

The Gatwick Express recently commenced early morning services from Brighton to Gatwick, and late afternoon services from Gatwick to Brighton.  These seem to be London commuter trains that can be used by passengers to/from Gatwick as well.  The journey time is 30 - 40 minutes, and there are four or five intermediary stops between Brighton and Gatwick.

Brighton is a nice place to visit, and a great location to start or end your travels around the south of England, so if this service dovetails in to flight times in/out of Gatwick, it might be useful.

Gatwick Express tickets are currently (April 09) 16.90 one way and 28.80 return.

Other train companies also have services to Gatwick station.  Southern Trains offer a similar high frequency service to Victoria, with a 35 minute journey time, and a lower 10.90 one way fare.  The trains stop at East Croydon and Clapham Junction, so if you're planning on traveling immediately out of London, you might be able to connect with a train from either of these busy stations rather than needing to go all the way in to London first.

First Capital Connect have an interesting alternative service that between St Pancras Station and Gatwick, with stops at Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge.  This service operates three or four times an hour Monday to Saturday, but does not operate on Sunday.  It is a 47 minute journey, and again costs 10.90 oneway - sometimes less depending on time of travel.

Two particularly noteworthy things about this service.  The first is that the trains often extend from St Pancras directly on to (or from) Luton Parkway - the station for Luton Airport.  The second is that not only is St Pancras on the northern side of London (as opposed to Victoria on the south side) but it is also the new terminus for the Eurostar trains to Paris, Brussels and elsewhere, making it very easy to connect from the flight in/out of Gatwick and the Eurostar train to/from Europe.

Connecting to other London airports

In addition to traveling in to London, then out of London to the other airport, with several changes of train/tube/bus/whatever along the way, there are some direct airport to airport services to make the process slightly simpler.

Heathrow :  National Express coaches travel between the two airports, up to six times an hour.  Journey time is about 75 minutes, depending on time of day and traffic conditions.

Stansted :  National Express coaches travel between the two airports, on an hourly service that goes via Heathrow  Journey time varies from 2 hrs 40 minutes to 3 hrs 20 mins.  A ticket costs about 29.30

Luton :  The easiest way to get to Luton is on a First Capital Connect Train (see above section on trains).  It is about a 100 minute journey, with regular departures during the day.

London City Airport :  Perhaps the best way to get to London City Airport is to take a First Capital Connect Train to London Bridge, then the tube to Canning Town and the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to London City Airport.  Or, if you wanted a less stressful experience, simply grab a cab from London Bridge Station.  Plan on at least 75 minutes travel time.

General

Gatwick is currently owned by BAA (British Airports Authority), but is now up for sale.

There are public showers available in both the North and South Terminals.  The South Terminal has showers on both sides of security, the North Terminal has showers on the public side of the airport only.

There is a Yotel in the South Terminal - this rents micro-sized hotel rooms complete with showers, for rates from 25 for a four hour rental.

Left Luggage/Lockers

There are no luggage lockers in the airport due to security concerns, but you can use luggage storage rooms located in the public (rather than secure) areas in both terminals to store your luggage for anywhere from a few hours up to as long as 90 days.  The service is operated by Excess Baggage Co.

All items stored are security screened.  Currently, there is a fee of 8 per item per day (or part thereof).

Useful Links

Gatwick Airport official website

Gatwick Express train service


Part four of a seven part series on London's airports - please also visit

1.  About London's airports in General
2.  London's Best and Worst Airports and Why
3.  London Heathrow Airport LHR

4.  London Gatwick Airport LGW
5.  London Stansted Airport STN
6.  London Luton Airport LTN
7.  London City Airport LCY

 

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Originally published 17 Apr 2009, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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