London’s Heathrow Airport is a vast and confusing place, with five separate terminals, three rail stations, a bus station and a whole range of carparks. Not only that, but London also has four other airports: Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City. Thankfully, Heathrow is fairly easy to get out of: if all else fails, you can take the Tube straight from the airport into central London. But what happens if you need to get from one airport to another? Most of them are on the outskirts of the city and not all of them are connected by the Underground.
You might be tempted to take an iconic London black cab from the inviting rank of glossy taxis lined up in front of the airport, but beware: they only take cash, and their fees are astronomically high. You could find yourself shelling out up to £70 for a ride from Heathrow Airport into central London. Of course, you get what you pay for, but perhaps it’s not a great start to a holiday in one of Europe’s most expensive cities.
You might find yourself at a loss if you’re flying into Heathrow and straight out of London again via Gatwick. There is no rail link between the two airports – unless you want to go all the way to Victoria Station in central London and then back out again! However, there’s a better way: the Heathrow-Gatwick Shuttle Bus. It’s the only direct public transport link between the two airports, but National Express have spared no expense in making the shuttle a pleasant experience, with comfortable air-conditioned coaches featuring on-board toilet facilities.
The journey is about 45 miles and takes about an hour and 20 minutes, but timing depends on the time of day. London peak hour lasts from 6:30am until 10am, and 3:30pm until 7pm, Mondays to Fridays, so if you’re unlucky enough to be travelling during this time you can expect delays of up to 15 minutes. Congestion is worse in the Gatwick to Heathrow direction in the morning, and vice versa in the evening. To be safe, allow at least 3 hours between flights, or 4 hours if you are changing airlines.
Of course, you might find yourself with some time to kill once you arrive at Heathrow Airport. Or perhaps you have an overnight layover in London – too long to spend in an airport, but too late in the evening to enjoy the city. Save yourself a long trip into the city centre and enjoy an evening at a cinema near Heathrow Airport before spending the night in one of the comfortable hotels near Hounslow Central Station, just two stops away from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. You’ll wake up refreshed, with a short and easy trip to the airport.
To find the Heathrow – Gatwick express at Heathrow, follow the signs to the Central Bus Station. The buses sometimes stop at Terminals 4 and 5, but not always – if you arrive at T4 or T5, the best way to catch the bus is to take a free ride on the Heathrow Express train to the bus station. From terminals 1, 2 and 3, the bus station is about 10 minutes’ walk away, on a luggage-friendly underground route lined with moving walkways and lifts. They’ve thought of everything! At Gatwick, the bus to Heathrow stops at both the North and South terminals: simply follow the signs and you should encounter no problems.
Tickets cost from £25 one-way or £40 return, and you can either pre-book them online or purchase them when you arrive. Look for ticket kiosks in the arrival halls, or the National Express ticket desk in Heathrow’s Central Bus Station. Buying them online is the smart thing to do, if you can, since this is the only way you are guaranteed a seat. If you turn up on the day you might find that other travellers have been quicker off the mark! When booking, aim for a bus that leaves at least 80 minutes after your plane touches down. There are about 100 buses a day in both directions, so don’t worry – you won’t be waiting long.
As with everything related to travel, you’ll get the best results if you plan ahead. Pre-book your bus tickets, plan your route, and have a plan B in case your flight is delayed, you run into a traffic jam, or you encounter one of the many other things that could possibly go wrong. Of course you can’t plan for everything, but if you take as much into account as you can, your London visit should be smooth sailing the whole way through.