London Airports Transportation FAQ

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This seems to be the most asked question on the UK & Ireland Forum, so we have clubbed together, and got a definitive page together for advice on each of the options for the London airports.

The timings on this thread are approximate, and based on either timetables or bitter experience. Please do your own research and allow plenty time if heading to the airport. London is a huge, crowded city, with legendary congestion, and a public transport network still suffering from decades of underinvestment, and getting busier by the day.

Don't let this put you off, though! It all kind of works, just about. Plenty of us fly from here pretty much weekly, and have yet to miss a flight, whether going by train, bus, Tube or taxi. It's all part of The London Experience...

London Heathrow (LHR)

First of all, it's worth looking at the excellent Journey Planner website. It will plot a route for you, using public transport, with timings, costs and detailed destination and walking route maps.

Heathrow Express

15 minutes to Paddington from Heathrow Central (for T123), and 20-25 from Terminal 5. A shuttle service runs between Heathrow Central and Terminal 4. Details on the Heathrow Express website.

Fares:

For up-to-date fares, see the Heathrow Express Ticket Prices page. As of January 2011, these were:

  • £18.00 Express Class single
  • £32.00 Express Class return
  • £26.00 First Class single
  • £50.00 First Class return

Note that Express Class single fares are subject to a £1.50 discount for online purchase, and Express Class single and return fares are subject to a £5.00 supplement for purchase on boards. Neither of these apply to First Class fares.

Carnets and combination fares are available, along with through tickets to London Underground destinations, although if you have Oyster pre-pay, it is generally cheaper to buy a normal ticket, and use that. Day return tickets are no longer sold. London Transport travelcards are not valid. National Rail railcards can now be used on this service, offering a 1/3rd discount for adults and 2/3rds for kids, for an annual fee, but you do need to buy a ticket at the counter, not the machine, to take advantage of this, although there have been recent reports that you can buy discounted HEX tickets from First Great Western ticket machines at Paddington - just make sure you select the correct ticket type.

Also see the Heathrow Express Promotion Codes thread for additional discounts, but do pay attention to the date of the post in question.

Pros:

  • Fast and comfortable, with good luggage storage.
  • Takes you to Paddington, which is in West Central London, where you can change to the Tube (Bakerloo, Hammersmith & City, Circle, District) or a taxi.
  • A taxi-share scheme operates in the morning peak.
  • HEX + taxi can work out cheaper and much faster than taxi all the way.

Cons:

  • Expensive, particularly for multiple travellers, although look out for group discounts at weekends.
  • Not necessarily the fastest option for certain areas of London.
  • The taxi queues at Paddington can be long at peak times.
  • Does not directly serve Terminal 4.

Tips:

  • On leaving Paddington, use the rear carriages for T1, and the front carriages for the others.
  • There are quiet carriages, marked with a 'Q' if you don't want to be bothered by the AV and mobile phones.
  • On leaving Heathrow, use the middle carriages if you want to connect to the Hammersmith and City line or clockwise Circle line (for King's Cross and Liverpool Street), and the front carriages otherwise. Trains run on the left, if that helps you figure out which is the front. resume writer
  • The very front and rear carriages are First Class. The doors always align with the 'mind the gap' painted on the platform edge (even if it slows to a near stop just short of it!) and the first two (at the T1 end on Heathrow Central, for example) are First Class.
  • Off-peak trains are shorter, and stop at the T23 end of Heathrow Central. This often provokes a mass rush from the T1 end. You can see markings on the platform if you look closely.
  • On arrival at Paddington, in peak times, the taxi queue can be rather large. The crowd-beater's guide: walk through to the forward First Class carriage on approach to Paddington. Briskly walk out, and out of the platform. The taxi rank has recently moved due to construction of the London Crossrail, so now you head left from the platform, past platforms 8 - 12 and around to the escalator. There's often a member of staff directing people with luggage to the lifts rather than using the escalator ... but if you can get past him the escalator is the quickest way to the taxi queue.

London Underground

45 minutes to 1h15 to Central London, depending on destination and time of day. Details on the Transport for London website.

Fares:

  • Varies according to length of journey and time of day, but £5.00 for a full-fare one-way to Central London, £4.50 on Oyster in peak times, £2.70 off-peak.
  • Combination tickets are available, and London Transport travelcards including zone 6 are valid.
  • See Transport for London website for the sometimes baffling fare information.

Pros:

  • Good value, and, although relatively slow, tends to be more predictable than road transport.
  • Gives direct transport to many popular hotel areas, including Earls Court, Kensington and Russell Square.

Cons:

  • Relatively slow.
  • Can be very crowded at peak times, and there is limited luggage storage space.
  • Delays and engineering work are not unheard of.
  • Watch out for first Tube times at weekends: they can be later than you imagine.

Tips:

  • Transport for London (TfL) have recently introduced punitive fares for single paper tickets on their network. This is to encourage people to use Oyster, a proximity card with either a rechargeable pre-pay balance (at discounted journey rates) or a season ticket. One-day travelcards (must include Zone 6 for LHR) are still good value, but the Oyster pre-pay scheme will 'cap' the price of a day's journeys at the value of the equivalent travelcard (including National Rail journeys_. Pre-pay Oyster cards need not be registered, and can be bought in advance or from any London Underground ticket counter, and now from several Oyster vending machines - this saves a lot of time! There is an Oyster vending machine at Heathrow T123, for example, just by the ticket machines. Have several £1 coins to hand.
  • Departing from Heathrow, the front of the train is usually the quietest. This is the opposite end of the platform from where the escalators deposit you.
  • The touch-screen ticket machines at Heathrow take all major (and some minor!) credit cards. This can save you a lot of time.
  • Heading to Heathrow, you'll often find that the extremities of the train (again, particularly the front) are less busy. This tends to apply throughout the Tube.
  • Hammersmith and Barons Court offer the best interchange for the District Line. This is a simple cross-platform walk. Pretty much all other interchanges on the Piccadilly Line involve steps, and some have surprisingly long walks (Green Park, Leicester Square, for example).
  • While you're given leeway for this at Heathrow, do not stand on the left on escalators. You'll get people shoving past you, or at least tutting, otherwise. If you don't want to walk down/up the escalator, you should stand on the right.
  • Watch where your train is going. Not all Piccadilly Line trains go to Heathrow, and those that do have two routes. Trains marked "Terminal 5" will first serve T123, then T5. All other Heathrow trains will first serve T4, then T123, via quite a long loop. If you're going to T123, it's usually (a little) faster to wait for a T5 train, but these are generally slightly busier at peak airport times.

Heathrow Connect

26 minutes from Heathrow Central to London Paddington, with intermediate stops. About 35-40 minutes from Terminals 4 and 5, each with a shuttle connection in Heathrow Central (some direct services from Terminal 4 run at weekends). Details on the Heathrow Connect timetable page.

Fares:

  • £8.50 single to/from London Paddington
  • £6.50 single to/from Ealing Broadway

Discounts are available for people with travelcards (including one-day), although those with pre-pay Oyster cards need to physically leave the train at Hayes & Harlington to touch in/out. Fares are available to stations further afield. Child fares are available.

National Rail railcards can now be used on this service, offering a 1/3rd discount for adults and 2/3rds for kids, for an annual fee.

Pros:

  • Relatively fast and comfortable, less luggage space than the express.
  • Good for travel to West London (Hayes, Southall, Ealing).
  • Good place for flying Flyg London
  • Good for connections via Hayes & Harlington to FGW services without having to travel to Paddington.
  • Good for connections to the Central and District Lines at Ealing Broadway for West London destinations on those lines.
  • Cheaper than the Heathrow Express.

Cons:

  • Slower than the Heathrow Express, and significantly more expensive than London Underground. Not so good if you're not going to Paddington or West London.
  • It is a commuter service, so gets busier with non-airport traffic at peak times.
  • It runs only every 30 minutes, and is timed so the Heathrow Express always overtakes it.
  • Connection times at Hayes & Harlington for other FGW Link services aren't always fantastic.

Tips:

  • At London Paddington, this service is advertised as 'Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 and 3' and usually departs from platform 12.
  • At Heathrow Central, this service may be advertised as 'Stopping Train to Paddington'.
  • You cannot use a travelcard all the way: you still need to pay a supplementary fare for the Hayes & Harlington to Heathrow Central portion. Buying tickets that include a travelcard or railcard discount can only be done at ticket counters, generally speaking, not at machines.
  • Through tickets to Heathrow Central must be specific Heathrow Connect tickets. Others will not be accepted.

London Taxis ('Black Cabs')

Variable times to London, due to unpredictability of traffic. Anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Fares:

  • Varies according to length of journey, traffic and time of day.
  • See the TfL Taxis and Private Hire website for the basics.
  • You can pay between £40 and £80 to get to Central London.

Pros:

  • Very heavily regulated, so a safe, reliable option.
  • Taxis are well-designed to carry many people and a decent amount of luggage.
  • Some may take credit cards (specify before starting the journey) at a premium.
  • Many black cabs are fully accessible.
  • Black cabs (unlike other taxis) are entitled to use bus lanes in London, which can speed up your journey a great deal at peak times. However, as the M4 (main road from Heathrow to Central London) bus lane is shortly to close, this benefit may soon be rather less valuable.

Cons:

  • If you're travelling outside of Greater London, they are not obliged to take you, and you must negotiate the fare.
  • If you're going nearby (e.g. a Heathrow Hotel) there are many reports of stroppy drivers who want the big fares in return for their queueing.
  • Expensive option, and unpredictably so, given the variability of London's traffic.

Tips:

  • At most times of day, there are dispatchers manning the taxi queues at Heathrow. If you have any particular needs (credit card, wheelchair access), tell them.
  • If you want to pay by credit card, you must ask before you go.
  • It's standard protocol, in London, to request the destination before you get into the taxi, not just to get in.

Pre-Booked Taxis

Variable times to London, due to unpredictability of traffic. Anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Fares:

  • Varies according to length of journey and company involved.
  • Flyertalkers have noted Addison Lee and Airport Direct as options towards Central London.
  • Expect fares of £40-50 for Central London, including pick-up fees. The return to the airport is cheaper (in the £35-45 region).

Pros:

  • Cheaper than a black cab, and cheaper than the Heathrow Express in a group.
  • Fixed rate means no worries about ridiculous fares due to traffic problems.
  • You will get met at arrivals.
  • You can order MPV taxis, usually seating up to 7.

Cons:

  • Much lighter regulation than the official London Taxis. While I personally have had nothing but good experiences with the companies mentioned above, it is extremely important only to deal with reputable private hire ('minicab') companies in London. TfL Taxis and Private Hire have a licencing scheme, which is a good indicator. You can also go on personal recommendations. But, I cannot stress enough, do not just get into a 'taxi'. Black cabs are fine, decent minicab companies are fine. But there are instances of all sorts of problems reported in London, from dangerous vehicles and driving, through to armed robbery and rape in illegal minicabs. Never take a taxi from a tout.
  • Credit cards are not generally accepted, unless pre-booked with one, and at a premium.
  • You are still subject to the vagaries of London traffic, without the ability to use bus lanes.

Tips:

  • Private hire companies are not bound by per-mile or other fee regulations. Always agree a price beforehand.
  • Unless you specify otherwise, a taxi will sit 3, 4 at a push.
  • 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm are the peak times in London. Yes, they are that long. Be warned.
  • The Heathrow area has got very congested recently, and security regulations have now removed a number of pick-up point that taxi drivers used to use. Of course, as this forces them to use expensive car parks, the airport authories aren't complaining... Some drivers have pick up points at departure that they use, others will use a car park. However, delays in picking you up are more common these days, mostly due to the unpredictability of the traffic getting you into the airport, which can be horrendous (the tunnels into T1/2/3 are a major bottleneck).
  • If you are heading out of London, then it's generally worthwhile looking for a taxi company based at your destination. Many such companies specialise in airport pick-ups.

Rail-Air Links

There are multiple rail-air links from Heathrow, useful for different purposes:

  • The Feltham RailAir is no longer a dedicated link, but the 285 bus serves terminals 1 and 3 (Central Bus Station) and the 490 bus serves terminals 4 and 5. This will take you to a dedicated bus stand at Feltham station, for South West Trains routes to South-West London, Waterloo, South Berkshire, North Surrey and Hants. About 20-30 minutes to Feltham, then about 30 minutes to Waterloo.
  • The Woking RailAir goes from all terminals to Woking station, run by National Express. This gives you connections for Surrey, Hampshire and further afield.
  • The Reading RailAir goes from T123 and T5 to Reading station. This service uses the Central Bus Station (and T5) on departure, but stops at the individual terminals (not T4) on arrival. This gives you connections for most Great Western services to the West, Oxford, the South West and Wales, as well and Berkshire and North Surrey.
  • There is no longer a dedicated rail-air link to Watford Junction (for trains to Milton Keynes and the West Midlands), but Green Line Route 724 runs from Terminal 5 and the Central Bus Station to Watford Junction, and on to St Albans, Hatfield, Welwyn and Harlow. It also stops at Denham Station (for Chiltern Railways local services). It runs hourly and takes about one hour to Watford Junction.

Fares:

  • Feltham: £2.20 (travelcards accepted, £1.30 on Oyster pre-pay)
  • Woking: £6.00
  • Reading: £13.00 (railcard and return discounts available, as well as through fares)
  • Watford, Denham, St Albans: £7.00 (£10.85 r/t)

Pros:

  • Very convenient for connections for rail journeys, and allows you to avoid London.
  • Most buses (not Feltham) have good luggage storage.
  • Through tickets for rail journeys often available.

Cons:

  • Feltham bus is a local bus, and has limited storage space.
  • Feltham is not the best area of London, and, although fine during the day, may be best avoided at night if you are likely to feel threatened.
  • All services are, of course, subject to the traffic around Heathrow, which can be exceptionally heavy at times.

Tips:

  • Do be aware that many of the discounted rail tickets in the UK require you to travel on specific trains. If you have a booking, and are delayed Woking or Feltham links, the rail companies will not accept responsibility. The Reading and Watford links are run by the railway companies themelves, so you have more protection, but do check any terms and conditions to leave yourself enough time.
  • The Feltham buses are the 285 and 490. They go on beyond Feltham, but stop in a special station bay. If you're nervous about knowing where to alight, don't be shy: ask the driver to tell you!

Coach Links

National Express run a series of coach (bus) services to Central London from Heathrow, mostly from the Central Bus Station. They also run direct, long-distance buses further afield.

Fares:

  • Search on the National Express website for fare details, as these vary according to many factors.

Pros:

  • Opens up a number more direct destinations within London, and around. Of particular interest are:
    • Oxford
    • Chiswick
    • Notting Hill
    • Gatwick Airport
    • Luton Airport
    • Stansted Airport (this does take a long time)
  • Dedicated luggage storage.
  • Reasonably priced option, particularly on longer distances.

Cons:

  • Again, traffic.
  • Also, for longer distances, they're not always the most comfortable.

Bus Links

There are a number of bus links around Heathrow. As well as the 'Hotel Hoppa' service, public buses connect many local areas with Heathrow Airport. See the Heathrow Spider Map for the routes, and the excellent new Free Routes to Hotels map.

See also the National Express Hoppa website for details of the Hotel Hoppa service.

Fares:

  • Flat fare of £2.20 for the London Transport buses (£1.30 with Oyster pre-pay), but these are FREE within the 'Heathrow Free-Flow' zone. See the maps above for free journeys to hotels.
  • Flat fare of £4 per adult on the Hotel Hoppa buses.
  • All bus passes and London Transport travelcards are valid (not on the Hotel Hoppa), regardless of zone.

Pros:

  • London Transport buses can be more convenient than the Hotel Hoppa, and far cheaper than a taxi, but you do have to get to the Central Bus Station.
  • Most buses are now fully accessible.

Cons:

  • Although buses in London are now very well-signed, it can be difficult to know where to get off.
  • Not good with a lot of luggage.

Tips:

  • State your destination to the driver on boarding. He or she will then tell you if it's one of the free Heathrow destinations or not.
  • If you're not sure where to alight, don't be shy: ask the driver!
  • To get to the Central Bus Station, follow signs for the Underground at T123. From T4, there are some buses that call directly, but otherwise, you'll have to get the Heathrow Express (free) to Heathrow Central for Northbound buses, or get a free bus to Hatton Cross to change for Southbound.