Luton is the only of the four
major London airports not to be owned by BAA at some time or
another. 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. (Update, in 2018
it announced expansion plans.)
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
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
The History of London Luton
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
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
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
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
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. There have been
suggestions that its relatively short runway (7,087 ft) should
be lengthened, possibly to 9,843 ft, which would allow it to
handle larger and more heavily loaded planes.
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,
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
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
Other bus service is
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.
There is no underground
service to or close to Luton.
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.
A new light rail service - the
Luton DART - is due to open in 2022. This will connect the
airport with the Luton Parkway train station, and will replace the
shuttle bus, providing faster connections. A combination
journey from St Pancras station in London all the way to the
airport will take 30 minutes.
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, 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.
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.
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
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 (2021 update -
this fee is now £5, allowing up to ten minutes to pick-up or
drop-off passengers, then an extra £1 for each minute over that).
There are free drop-off points not too far from the terminal
building (600m/2000 ft). 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.
There are left luggage
facilities in the airport, opposite from check in desks 201-210.
Airport official website
Part six 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
London Gatwick Airport LGW
London Stansted Airport STN
6. London Luton Airport LTN
London City Airport LCY
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17 April 2009, last update
10 Sep 2021
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