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How to get to London airports during the rail strikes this week

Aug. 19, 2022
11 min read
Heathrow Express
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If you're planning on flying to London this week or are currently in the city and making plans to get to the airport for your return trip back to the U.S., read this story ASAP before you take a step toward the airport.

This weekend, train passengers across the U.K. will face major disruptions as rail staff stage walkouts over pay and working conditions in what’s been billed as the biggest strike for a generation. Strike action is also planned on the London underground today as disgruntled Transport for London staff join the picket line, and RMT workers are bringing the railways to a grinding halt today and Saturday.

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In addition to piling further misery on commuters and day-trippers, the triple whammy of strike action is bad news for those looking to reach airports. This includes airports around London since a vast number of passengers travel to the terminals each day via public transport.

Before we break down each airport and how to get there, bear in mind that there is no safe option. Roads will be busier than usual, services will be scattered and even those seemingly outside of strike action may still be affected by the walkouts.

If you are able to drive or get a lift from family or friends, do it. Long-term parking is still available at major airports, but it will be busy and may require an additional bus to the terminal.

So, what do you need to know if you’re looking to reach a flight on time in the capital during the rail strike? Read on.

Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Heathrow Terminal 3. (Photo by StockinAsia/Getty)

Apart from Friday’s TfL strike (don’t even think about traveling by tube to Heathrow on this day), the underground should be running as normal during the rail strikes. This means that today — as well as from Saturday starting at 8 a.m. and all of Sunday — you should be able to catch a tube from central London on the Piccadilly line right up to the airport terminals in about 50 minutes.

Well, in theory you should. With strikes and delays by TfL staff expected for Friday, there’s every chance of a domino effect for the surrounding days. Personally, we’d keep a plan B in pocket just in case of trouble on the tube. Or, at least check up-to-the-minute line info before heading out.

Heathrow Express looks to be the most reliable express train service to any London airport during the Network Rail strikes (it’s operated by Heathrow Airport Holdings, which is not involved in the action). However, Network Rail is still in charge of track maintenance, meaning it could also suffer effects. It’s running a limited Express service on Thursday and Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and 5:57 p.m. to Terminals 2, 3 and 4, and it expects to be fully operational during most of the weekend.

Related: What’s faster? Watch us race across England by plane and train

All other rail services to and from Heathrow will likely be seriously affected on days of strike action; this includes the Elizabeth Line which is expecting massive disruptions on Aug. 18 and Aug. 20. However, the brand spanking new line is expected to operate as normal on the day of the tube strike (Aug. 19) and also Aug. 21.

If you’re getting the bus, there will be no service on the 105, 423 and N9 buses on Saturday. In fact, your best chance on public transport is booking a coach to Heathrow from one of a host of locations across the city; this includes Victoria Bus Station, where you can reach the airport in 50 minutes for as little as 6 pounds ($7.16).

Alternatively, catch a taxi. A black cab is pricy, costing 70 pounds ($83.58) for a fare depending on where you are departing from. However, it was the fastest mode of transport to Heathrow when the TPG team recently put the Elizabeth line to the test in a race to the airport.

Better yet, book a fixed-rate minicab from home or your hotel which will take the stress out of things. It'll prove to be much cheaper than Uber’s infamous surcharge, which is sure to be soaring during peak periods of strike action; an off-peak UberX from central London will set you back around 45 pounds ($53.73).

Word to the wise: Users of popular car hire club Zipcar can pick up a flex ride, drive themselves to the airport and drop off the car close to Terminal 5. It does require an extra 7.50 pounds ($8.96) airport charge, and you will need to drop it off at an off-airport location (Holiday Inn, Bath Road), requiring a short bus ride of no more than 10 minutes to T5. But who cares when you can arrive at the airport at a time of your choosing? If you can book or find a Zipcar in your area of London, it’s a no-brainer.

Gatwick Airport (LGW)

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

A limited train service will be in operation to and from LGW's railway station on Aug. 18 and 20. Avoid using public transport where possible and plan your journey in advance; a very limited number of trains will run between the airport and central London between 7 a.m and 7 p.m on these days, with no service outside of these hours.

Don’t expect much luck on the Gatwick Express either. Operated by Govia Thameslink Railway, it will be severely disrupted by the train strikes and is likely to have a limited service from Aug. 19 to 21, “due to displaced trains and crew,” according to the airport. Your best bet over the entire weekend is reaching Gatwick by road.

Related: 3 timely tips for finding and using travel insurance this summer

National Express and The Airline by the Oxford Bus Company serve both North and South Terminals, and you can catch them in a variety of locations around central London.

Taxi-wise, a pre-booked minicab will likely be your most affordable and practical option. Although if you do find yourself stranded on Regent Street frantically refreshing your phone or waving your arms, expect to pay at least 60 pounds ($71.64) for an UberX and at least 100 pounds ($119.41) for a black cab journey; the ride will take 80 minutes or more.

London Stansted Airport (STN)

London Stansted airport long stay parking lot (Photo by claudiodivizia/Getty Images)

You know it’s bad when even the Stansted Express website says to "avoid traveling by train this weekend."

The airport’s popular Express service is operated by Greater Anglia, which means there will be no direct trains running between Liverpool Street and Stansted on Aug. 18, 20 and 21. Those who do brave the limited service will experience a journey of at least 90 minutes (which includes a bus replacement service) before hopping back onto a train. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Basically, trains should be a no go here, even if you think they might be running.

Expect to pay anything from 65 to 70 pounds ($77.61 to $83.58) minimum for an UberX at peak periods, taking an hour and a half to reach the terminal. With surge pricing, expect to pay more than 100 pounds ($119.41). If you’re in a hurry and aren’t having luck booking an UberX, the Exec option costs around 30-40% more but gives you extra space for luggage and gets you there in a bit more comfort.

As for black cabs, you’ll be looking at north of 150 pounds ($179.11). Ouch. By far the best option is to pre-book National Express coaches and Airport Bus Express services toward Stansted, which serve most major London train and bus stations. The direct service from London Victoria will take two hours, but costs as little as 15 pounds ($17.91).

Parking isn’t cheap, starting at around 120.99 pounds ($144.47) for a week’s stay, but if you factor in the hassle of getting to the airport, it may well be one of the best investments you’ll make this summer.

London Luton Airport (LTN)

Luton Airport. (Photo by Captain_Kangaroo/Shutterstock)

Thursday and Saturday’s rail strikes will mean significantly reduced services, as well as a later start to services on Friday and Sunday.

We heard word that Thameslink service from London’s St Pancras is not on the RMT ballot, and as such, it may be operational during the strike action. Still, chances are it’ll also be hit by a severely limited service.

Naturally, the tube doesn’t go all the way to Luton, but if you managed to travel north on the overground to Watford Station, a cab would take just 30 minutes.

Related: It’s official: Heathrow’s controversial passenger cap will last until October

On a good day, you could reach London Luton by taxi from central London in around 70 minutes, for at least 70 pounds ($83.58) using UberX (that’s before the dreaded surcharge). It would cost at least 120 pounds ($143.29) with a black cab.

If you want to save pennies, try booking a coach. National Express and Green Line run frequent coach services between Central London and London Luton Airport 24/7, with four departures an hour during the daytime. Prices on Green Line start from 11.50 pounds ($13.73) at peak periods, and take around one hour and 20 minutes from central London.

London City Airport (LCY)

A British Airways plane taxis at the London City Airport, in east London, on March 16, 2020. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/Getty Images)

If you’ve booked a flight from London City Airport (LCY) — the closest airport to central London, and a hop, skip and a jump from Canary Wharf on the Docklands Light Railway — you probably weren’t going to be all that reliant on National Rail anyway.

However, anyone who had been hoping to use rail services between Aug. 18 and Aug. 20 to connect with the DLR — such as joining it at West Ham station via C2C services — should forget it. C2C is one of the many rail firms whose staff is downing tools in a dispute over pay on these dates.

On Aug. 19, expect the DLR to be down as part of strikes by TfL workers. If you are planning to travel on the days on either side of the tube strike, you may be in luck — services are expected to run as usual. Still, keep abreast of travel updates in case issues remain.

There’s further bad news for those looking to drive and park at London City airport. With spaces extremely limited as it is, TPG checked online and much of the parking is largely unavailable throughout this weekend.

While you are closer to London, getting the bus here is a bit trickier; there are only two buses (473 and 474) serving the airport from the likes of Stratford and Canning Town.

Your best bet is a cab for London City, and thankfully, since it's so close to the center of town, it won’t cost you and arm and a leg. UberX will set you back about 30 pounds ($35.82) from most central spots. A black cab can run you to the terminal from the West End for 40 pounds ($47.76), taking little over half an hour in good traffic.

Bottom line

If you plan ahead, leave yourself plenty of time to travel to the airport, keep up to date with live services and brace yourself for longer wait times for Ubers, you’ll be ok.

Perhaps the only silver lining of this latest strike action for travelers is that we’ve seen it before, having suffered a wave of similar strike action just last month. Even outside of the key dates, don’t expect to use the railway to reach an airport on the Aug. 18 or Aug. 20. Nor should you attempt to get a tube or London overground service on Aug. 19 since there will likely be delays in the surrounding days.

For the best chance of ensuring your trip isn’t hampered, aim to travel by road. If you’ve already bought rail tickets, don’t fret – you’ll be able to claim compensation.

Featured image by Image courtesy of Heathrow Express
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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