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 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
The History of London Gatwick
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
Bus service between London
and Gatwick's North Terminal is offered by
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.
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.
There is no underground
service to Gatwick.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
All items stored are
security screened. Currently, there is a fee of £8 per
item per day (or part thereof).
Gatwick Airport official website
Gatwick Express train service
Part four of a seven part
series on London's airports - please
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
London Stansted Airport STN
London Luton Airport LTN
London City Airport LCY
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17 Apr 2009, last update
03 Aug 2011
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