London airports are located all around the metropolitan area. With five key international commercial facilities, there are more major airports in London than in any other city in Europe. Some visitors not familiar with the area are apt to arrive at or connect in a facility that they never knew existed. Gatwick Airport and Heathrow Airport are the two busiest and most well known, and those arriving from the United States are most likely to land at one of these. If they are flying on to the continent, they may well find themselves at lesser known Luton Airport or at Stansted Airport for that flight.
The least known of the airports in London is undoubtedly London City Airport. It is also the only facility actually in the city of London. It is located in East London, only one mile from the the ExCeL London events venue and conference center, only three miles from the shopping mecca of Canary Wharf, and only six miles from the center of London. This facility services flights to over 30 destinations across the UK and Europe; there are even flights to New York City, and its location is so close to the financial districts makes it the number one airport for business travelers. This is one of the most convenient of London airports for airport shuttles and quick getaway flights to continental or other European destinations if you are staying in the city.
Stansted Airport began life in 1943 as a Royal Air Force base, and beginning in 1966 was used as a base for charter operators to avoid the high cost of operating flights out of Heathrow and Gatwick. These charter flights were for vacation packages and holidays in the United States and warm weather European vacations in places such as Turkey, Ibiza, Greece, and Majorca. Today, Stansted Airport continues to handle seasonal charter flights to Majorca, Bodrum, Antalya, Rhodes, and Egypt. However, there are numerous scheduled flights, and this is now the third busiest of the airports in London after Heathrow and Gatwick. It’s located about 30 miles to the north and east of London in the town of Bishop’s Stortford. It’s convenient for people who are staying in this area, and there are also good public transportation options from the city.
Luton Airport is also about 30 miles (due) north of the city, and is located in the city of Luton. It was opened in 1938 and, like Stansted, was an RAF base during World War II. After the war, it also was (and continues to be) a major hub for charter operators heading out on holidays to Israel, Turkey, Greece, the Canary Islands, and Balearic Islands. There are also scheduled flights to Slovakia, Bucharest, Budapest, and Prague in Eastern Europe as well as flights to several Western Europe cities, other UK cities, to Israel and North Africa, and the traditional warm weather spots in the Mediterranean. There are no flights to Luton Airport from the United States, so American visitors are not apt to go to this airport unless they are continuing on to another destination.
One important thing to remember about all London airports if you are connecting to another flight is that you may land in one airport and have a connecting flight departing from a different one. You should check the airports on your reservation carefully to ensure you have enough time between connections to get to the other airport using the public transportation options available. Taxis are extremely expensive, and can be significantly slower than trains.