Of London’s airports, Stansted Airport is the furthest from central London, at nearly 40 miles. The airport is dominated by low cost airlines and in particular Ryanair and easyJet, the largest low cost airlines in Europe.
The vast majority of flights are UK or European domestic flights.
The airport also sees significant charter traffic, particularly for Brits traveling on package tours in the sun.
Major intercontinental and state-owned airlines such as British Airways, Virgin, American and Singapore Airlines use London Heathrow or Gatwick airports.
The airport is an established airport but was relaunched 15 years ago with a new terminal and infrastructure, including a direct rail link and motorway to London. At first it was a white elephant, but the emergence of budget airlines has transformed Stansted into one of the fastest growing airports in Europe in the last decade.
Today, the full capacity of the main terminal is in sight and a new terminal and later a second runway are planned.
There are no surprises with the terminal itself, all the standard facilities are in place including your choice of currency exchange, pharmacies, newsstands etc. There is a good range of dining opportunities ranging from fast food and pub grub to sit down restaurants. Like all airports run by BAA, the owner, there is a wealth of luxury shopping. But remember, the vast majority of flights from Stansted are within the EEC and do not qualify for duty-free status.
It normally takes around 30 minutes from landing to clearing customs with most flights if you have luggage. There is an airport information counter immediately outside customs and a counter for AirportCarz, which has a monopoly on taxi services at the airport. Taking a taxi to London is only used by a very small minority of passengers due to distance and cost.
If your destination is London, the fastest option is to take the Stansted Express train. The train station is below the terminal, so you simply descend to the platforms via escalators or elevators.
The Stansted Express takes 45 minutes to reach London Liverpool Street Station and runs every 15 minutes during the day. The last trains are around midnight. Fares on the Stansted Express are expensive, over $40 for a single return ticket. Liverpool Street Terminal is also not very convenient for most travellers, as it is in the middle of London’s financial district, 3-5 miles from most of the popular hotels. The train stops at an intermediate stop called Tottenham Hale, 10 minutes before Liverpool Street, an interchange with the London Underground (Victoria Line).
Many of the airlines will sell Stansted Express tickets, some at a discount, before you land at Stansted Airport.
The cheap transfer option to London is to take one of the four scheduled bus services operated by National Express and Terravision. There is a large and modern bus station in front of the terminal, next to the train station.
The cheapest option is the Terravision service to Liverpool Street Station, the same route as the Stansted Express. The price is about half that of the Stansted Express Train. The downside, like all road transfers, is London traffic, on a good day the coach will do it in about an hour. National Express offers services every 30 minutes to the nearby Stratford tube at a similar price.
The other route the coaches take is from Stansted to London Victoria. Both have return fees around $US25. The Terravision service is direct, the National Express service makes stops in central London, many near the main hotel districts. The National Express service is a true 24×7 service, the Terravision service only stops for a couple of hours in the early morning. Some of the highest frequencies are around midnight Stansted-London and very early in the morning London-Stansted for the first and last flights when the Stansted Express and the London Underground have closed.
Due to the sometimes extraordinarily cheap fares from Ryanair and easyJet, many transcontinental travelers have found it cheaper to fly to Heathrow and then complete their journey to their European destination using a budget airline from Stansted.
National Express provides shuttle services between Heathrow and Stansted from Stansted Coach Station. There are usually a couple of services per hour, the journey takes about 90 minutes (although motorway delays are almost common at peak times). The fare is not cheap either. The return fee is approximately $US50. It’s cheaper to use the indirect National Express service to Stratford and then take the London Underground to Heathrow, but less comfortable.
If you want to stay at Stansted Airport before a flight, there are many options available. Like all London airport hotels, room rates are often much cheaper on weekends than on weekdays. If you are transiting from Heathrow or Gatwick, which have much fiercer competition, you will probably find more expensive fares at Stansted, especially in the economy sector.
Immediately adjacent to the terminal is the luxurious Stansted Radisson SAS, the only airport hotel where you don’t need a hotel transfer vehicle. This is perhaps the most luxurious hotel and on weekends the rates can be quite competitive. The original luxury hotel in Stansted is the 4-star Hilton Hotel on the perimeter of the airport. The Hilton Stansted has its own shuttle bus from the bus station every 30 minutes.
In the vicinity of the airport there is an Express by Holiday Inn and a Best Western. The consistently cheapest option is the Days Inn in a motorway service area at the entrance to Stansted Airport. It does not provide a shuttle service to the airport itself, although there are of course taxis and a local bus service.
In addition to the chains, there are many independent hotels in the surrounding area. These have hotels for all budgets and tastes, ranging from Country House Hotels to pubs and traditional Bed and Breakfasts. The countryside around Stansted is surprisingly unspoiled and there is the opportunity to stay in a traditional market town or inn, for example.