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Luton is the smallest of London's four major 'full service' airports, and is used primarily by discount airlines, notably easyJet and Ryanair plus others not so well known in the US such as Monarch, Thomson and flyBE.

It has the least well developed range of airport services of the major airports, and transportation into London is perhaps less convenient as well.

 
 
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London Luton Airport (LTN)

Another airport popular with discount airlines
 

Luton's main road into the terminal area briefly tunnels under a taxiway.

Part six 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

 

 

Luton is the only of the four major London airports not to be owned by BAA.  Instead, it has been owned since inception by the local Council.

Whether this is relevant or not, it is the least well developed of the four major airports, and the only one without plans for future expansion, having put its earlier plans on hold back in 2007.

There's a generally dingy and run-down feeling to Luton.  But if you find yourself traveling through Luton - perhaps so as to get the lowest possible airfare somewhere - you should have an uneventful and problem free experience.  And isn't that really all you can ever hope for?

An introduction to London Luton Airport (LTN)

Luton is the fourth largest of London's airports, and the fifth busiest airport in the UK.

The airport comprises a single runway and a single terminal building, with road access to the terminal building going through a short tunnel under the main taxiway between the runway and the terminal hard stands.

The airport operates essentially 24/7, and serves about 95 destinations in 30 countries.

The History of London Luton Airport

The airport - originally known as Luton Municipal Airport - was opened on 16 July 1938.  It was owned by the Borough of Luton and is still owned, by the Luton Borough Council, to this present day, although now managed by a private company acting under contract to the airport owners.

During the war years it was used by the RAF.  It continued commercial flight service at the same time, and was also a manufacturing base for the famous Mosquito fighter bomber.

After the war the airport developed mainly charter and leisure services, and was renamed Luton International Airport, before being renamed yet again, in 1990, as London Luton Airport to play up the airport's proximity to London.

The airport has had its ups and downs, with events such as the bankruptcy of a major charter operator in 1974, and Ryanair's decision to move much of its service to Stansted in 1991.  However, overall, the airport's traffic has been growing strongly, growing from 3.2 million passengers a year in 1997 to 10.2 million in 2008.

Luton - a  Single Terminal Airport

Luton features a single main terminal, opened in 1999, and replacing an earlier terminal (the International Terminal building) built in 1985.

In 2005 further development of the previously unused upper level of the main terminal building allowed for departures to shift into the main terminal from the International Terminal building.

I've felt the terminal to be dark, dowdy, characterless and spartan in nature, more or less in keeping with the cut price budget airlines that fly in and out of Luton.

Future Plans for Luton

Typically there are conflicts between an airport and the local government authorities when the airport seeks to expand.  This is an interesting situation for Luton, because it is owned by the local council.

In 2004 the airport's private management company announced support for government plans to add a second runway (which would have largely replaced the current runway rather than added a second simultaneously operable runway) and second terminal structure.  However, the airport's owners disagreed with the managers.

In 2007 it was announced that Luton had abandoned any plans for adding an extra runway and terminal, for financial reasons.

Connecting between Terminals

This section is not applicable to Luton because it just has a single terminal.  It can, however, take an official 20 minutes to walk from one end of the gates to the other end of the gates.

Connections into London

By road - car, bus, shuttle, taxi

Luton is located just a few miles from the M1, and just a short distance north of the M25 ringroad around London, giving it good road connections to most places north and west of London.

To travel from the airport in to London, easyBus offers full size bus service to Victoria Station, with service every 15 - 30 minutes every day except Christmas.

The easyBus route includes stops at Marble Arch and Baker St (and also Finchley Rd and Brent Cross), and takes about 80 minutes for the complete route between Victoria Station and Luton airport.  Baker St is about 15 minutes shorter.

Buses operate 24 hrs a day.  Fares start at 2 if you prepurchase a ticket online, and cost considerably more if you buy a ticket direct from the bush driver.

Other bus service is provided by Green Line, following essentially the same route as easyBus.  Their website doesn't reveal ticket pricing, but it is sure to be more than 2 and probably not much more than 12 per person.

National Express also operate nonstop service every 15 - 30 minutes between Luton and Victoria Station, with about a 75 minute journey time, and a 13 one way fare.  They also provide coach service to other cities as well as London.

We are unaware of any door to door shuttle type service being offered to Luton.

Taxi service is of course available from directly outside the terminal.  But 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 or close to Luton.

Train

The good news - Luton Parkway train station, to provide rail links to/from the airport, was opened in 1999.

The bad news - while the train station is close to the airport, it isn't close enough to walk between the station and the airport, and access in to the station is on the 'wrong' side of the track (ie the side away from the airport).  Instead, you need to connect to a shuttle bus (called the 'Train2Plane') to complete the journey the last short mile.

While this is perhaps an insignificant extra small hassle as part of the total complete journey, it adds extra time, one more layer of complication, and another wildcard variable opportunity for things to go wrong, making Luton perhaps the least convenient of London's airports to access by rail, other than, of course, London City Airport which has no rail access at all (but which is so close in to the city as not to need it).

Note, when traveling from London to Luton Airport, be sure to buy a ticket for Luton Parkway, not just to Luton.  Trains to Luton may not necessarily go to Luton Parkway, and the regular Luton station is some further distance away from the airport.

Even more confusingly, if you buy a train ticket to the Luton Parkway station, you will have to pay an additional 1 to take the bus the rest of the way to the airport.  And if you get to the rail station other than by train, the fee becomes 1.50.

First Capital Connect offers trains between Luton Parkway and St Pancras, with some of these trains extending on to Gatwick and even on to Brighton.  It is about 25 minutes between Luton Parkway and St Pancras.

East Midlands Trains also offer service between Luton Parkway and St Pancras, with the fastest trains taking 21 minutes.

In addition, there are connecting buses operated by Virgin Trains that run between the airport and Milton Keynes train station, to connect with Virgin rail services from that station.  It takes about an hour, and buses operate about once an hour.

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, on an hourly service.  The journey is about 70 minutes.

Gatwick :  The easiest way to get to Gatwick is on a First Capital Connect Train.  It is about a 100 minute journey, with regular departures during the day.

Stansted :  Luton is not very far from Stansted, as the crow flies, but has no direct motorway connection.  National Express offers coach transfers between the two airports, with irregular departure times (about once every hour or so) and a journey time of about an hour and a half.  A oneway journey is 11.70.

London City Airport :  We are unaware of any direct service between Luton and London City Airport.  Instead you should probably take a train further on, past St Pancras, 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.  Allow about an hour, depending on connecting train times.

General

Luton is owned by the local Luton Borough Council and managed by a private company on the council's behalf.  It has no current plans for appreciable expansion.

Perhaps as an extension of the budget airline/nothing included-everything extra paradigm, Luton charges for some thing that most other airports would offer for free - for example, there will be, from 29 April 2009, a 1 fee to drop passengers off at the terminal.  And if you need a clear plastic bag to put your liquids in to go through security, rather than grab a free giveaway bag, that will cost you money, too.

Talking about security, if you're in a hurry to go through security, a 3 charge gets you access to a priority lane.

Needless to say, luggage carts aren't free either.

We are not aware of any public shower facilities.

Left Luggage/Lockers

There are left luggage facilities in the airport, opposite from check in desks 201-210.

Useful Links

Luton Airport official website


Part six 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 April 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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