/ Travel & Leisure

Airport express trains – worth it for the speedy service?

Cartoon of man, train and plane

The trek to and from London’s airports by rail must surely be one of the most unglamorous journeys in the world. What do you think about express trains? Are they a pleasure or the worst thing about holidays?

I know my holiday is well and truly over when I find myself struggling to find room for my suitcase on the way back from Gatwick, or trundling back from Stansted and wondering how the ‘express’ service justifies its name. So lately, I’ve ditched the train and either drive or take a taxi to the airport.

Thumbs up to airport express trains

But it seems I’m in the minority, as Which? members appear to be rather happy with their experiences on the Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stansted express train services.

We surveyed 4,092 Which? members, and I was surprised to see that more than 80% of those who had used these airport trains were happy with them. And a higher proportion thought each service had got better, rather than worse, over the past two years.

Everything isn’t rosy though, as fewer than 30% thought any of the services were excellent or good value for money. Walk-up adult return ticket prices are £33.20 on the Gatwick Express, £34 on the Heathrow Express, and £31.50 on the Stansted Express.

More expensive than parking in the airport?

Our members’ views on value for money aren’t so surprising when you compare the above train ticket prices against the cost of airport parking. As we discussed last week, you can get a week’s on-site car parking at Gatwick for £46, Heathrow for £66 and Stansted for £44.75.

So, if there are two or more of you travelling for a week, it’s going to be more expensive to take the train than the car (and probably even when you factor in petrol). Plus, when you return home, your car will be waiting to take you back to your front door.

There are moves to make these services more attractive: Heathrow Express is refurbishing its carriages and giving staff new uniforms, and Stansted airport is campaigning for journey times to come down from at least 45 minutes to just half an hour

But in the meantime, I’ll be sticking to the car when I go to the airport, and not just because of the price. And you? What do you think about prices on London’s airport express services?


It’s absurd that a journey on the Heathrow Express costs more than on the Tube, and consequently that Oystercards are not valid. The Heathrow Express should be part of the Oyster system, just like all other public transport in Greater London. The only reason it is excluded is because of the rip-off mentality that has allowed its owners BAA to market it as a premium service. Similar services in other European capital cities are included in the city’s usual ticket validity area.

This hadn’t even occurred to me, nfh, but good point! I’m sure adding this to the Oyster system would really help to boost the number of people taking the train. It would also help alleviate overcrowding on the (often quite packed) Piccadilly line.

As someone without a car, I think these services are extremely valuable. Very occasinally I’ll take a taxi to the airport (if I have a really early morning flight) but other than that, these train services are the quickest and (usually) easiest way to get to the airport.

Having said that I think they are phenomenally expensive. I’d like to see prices come down, not just to save me a bit of money, but also to encourage those who would otherwise drive to use the train instead. It strikes me as ridiculous that it costs more for two people to take the train than to share a car – no wonder so many people drive!

Yep, airport express services are just a high priced con, or a rip-off if you prefer. Designed for business passengers I’m sure.

We recently came back into Gatwick but it was late at night so we had to get a bus from London Bridge to St Pancras (we live on the thameslink line) as the core section through farringdon was closed for severing the power cables, sorry I mean “engineering work”.

There was plenty of space for luggage, but that’s due to lack of passengers. Normally its a major squeeze on Thameslink to go to the airports.

Note also that some East Midlands trains serve Luton Airport – cannot use cheap tickets on these trains, what a surprise!

Anything tied to airports is overpriced, as they cater to a ‘captive market’ .
These train services seem pretty good for those who need them, but they are profit driven, not designed as a service for the consumer, but designed to maximise income.
This is why it is cheaper for a couple to drive & park rather than use the airport train.
This is why I take the tube to Heathrow, drive & park at Gatwick, Drive and Park up in Bishops Stopford & take a local cab for Stanstead.
I wonder why airports would try and discourage people driving to them, I have been to Gatwick this week, dropping off an elderly relative, checking in at special assistance and wheeling them to security, then stopping for a strong coffee, price at the pay machine £9, for under 2 hours, with profits like these I would think they would want the car parks full 24/7.
Any move to lower prices would be deemed as a service and the call would go out for government subsidies [I wonder if these services are already subsidised].

Airport express train is only for generate express money .Their fare is very expensive for general public.

bjs says:
27 April 2012

I used to use the Heathrow Express only when my employer was picking up the bill. I even used 1st class a few times though there were never any complimentary newspapers (as promised) and the laughable claim that I would effectively be nearer the buffers at Paddington – what a piece of marketing! After a while I gave up using it altogether even though I didn’t have to pay and just used the tube to get back to my office from long haul flights.
It’s bad enough that London Underground creates additional zones to make travel to the capital’s main airport more expensive than it need be. Try visiting Berlin to experience how public transport should welcome air travellers (a few Euros from either Schonefeld or Tegel) not slap them in the face. I can’t think of another airport amonst the many I’ve used worldwide (eg Boston, Vancouver, Chicago, Lisbon) that demands such an absurd price for public transport to the city centre. Stansted’s not much better than Heathrow in terms of cost to reach the centre of London – though how Stansted can be a ‘London’ airport has always baffled me – where next – London Robin Hood Airport maybe ?

I am astonished that so many Which readers are happy with the ‘Express’ service to Stanstead. The trains are really old and not terribly comfortable, extraordinarily expensive, barely get above 50mph and take 45 minutes from/to London. That particular service is a joke. I only hope that when the next runway goes in at Stanstead a condition is an upgrade of the rail line and a dedicated line like the Heathrow Express from Paddington.

On the issue of cost my last ticket was over £30 and last week got a return flight with Mr O’leary’s airline that hates its passengers from Beziers to Bristol return for £20 – how does that work?

Tim Wright says:
2 March 2014

In your admirable article on train travel to Heathrow, I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Heathrow Connect, the stopping service from Paddington. It takes 33 minutes to Terminals 1/3, and costs £9.90 single and £19.80 return. Railcards are valid.