How many airports does London have?

Gatwick: not, technically, in London. Image: Getty.

How many airports does London have? This feels like it should be a question with a simple and straightforward answer, turns out not to be anything of the sort, and – this is key – concerns a type of transport infrastructure. That makes it CityMetric gold, so let’s have at it.

If we’re going to be absolute purists about this, the answer is just two. The only airports inside the city limits are Heathrow, the behemoth 16 miles to the west, and City, a minnow (Is a minnow the opposite of a behemoth? best check - Ed.), nine miles to the east. So if you want to know how many airports are actually in London, the answer is just two.

Except we don’t hold with official but largely arbitrary city limits around here – honestly, we explained why in one of our very earliest articles, nearly five years ago now – and anyway how many airports are in London is not the same as how many airports London has. Which you can tell from the fact that most of London’s slightly silly number of airports are missing from our list.

London’s second airport, on any measure of size you can find, is Gatwick, located in Sussex, 28 miles to the south of the city and about eight south of its current boundaries. There’s also Stansted (39 miles north-north east in Essex) and Luton (34 miles north-north west in Bedfordshire). Between the three of them, these guys actually move more planes and more passengers than Heathrow does. As our future descendants will one day curse, as the sea laps around their ankles somewhere in the Peak District, London has a lot of air capacity.

But the London airport system – the list of airports online booking systems will consider if you ask for a flight to or from “London (all airports)” – actually includes a sixth option. That’s the tiny London Southend Airport, 40 miles to the east on the Essex coast.

At the moment it handles only about a third of the traffic of even City. It also takes the better part of an hour to get to from London, on a stopping train from Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria. This, one suspects, is the reason why – even though it’s only a mile further away from the city centre than Stansted – it tends to be the only official London airport that sees large number of people on social media whining about how it shouldn’t really be considered a London airport at all.

At any rate: a better answer for how many airports London has is six. It has six airports. Six.

Lydd is the optimistically named London Ashford Airport, which is actually closer to Lille. Look, just don’t ask, okay? Image: Nilfanion/Wikimedia Commons.

Except... well.

For a start, there’s London Oxford Airport out in, well, you can probably guess. That’s, give or take, about 56 miles from the centre of the capital. It’s not an official London airport – not in the aforementioned London Airport System – but it brands itself as London Oxford because, well, you would, wouldn’t you?


Then there’s Southampton Airport. that doesn’t seem to have ever branded itself as London Southampton, best I can tell, though that surprised me a bit because I could have sworn that I once flew from it and it did. What seems to have happened here is that sometimes airlines refer to it as London Southampton in an attempt to get me, and more fool me because it worked.

Anyway. That’s a whole 66 miles from the capital, and takes just over 1hr10 by train, but that’s only 20 minutes longer than Southend so maybe they should chance their arm.

And then there’s Birmingham Airport. Okay, I know this is getting silly now because Birmingham is an entirely different city, and on a strict distance measure it’s 96 miles from London, which is nearly 100 miles, which is a bloody long way.

Except for two things. Firstly, the train journey is 1hr14 which is, to within the margin of error, the same length of time it takes from “London” Southampton airport. That’s only on fast, and so expensive, Virgin trains admittedly. But that leads us to our second thing: in the event High Speed 2 ever happens, it’ll come with a whole new Birmingham Interchange station which, like the already existing Birmingham International, will also serve Birmingham Airport.

At which point two things will happen:

1) The trains from London to Birmingham Interchange will be even quicker;

2) The trains from London to Birmingham International will become, at least relatively speaking, cheaper, in an attempt to compete;

And a third thing will very probably happen too:

3) Some bright spark will come up with the idea of rebranding it as London Birmingham Airport because, once again, you would, wouldn’t you?

At any rate. London has a lot of airports, it has an indeterminate number of airports, and the London Airport System seems likely to grow rather than shrink.

Don’t get me started on private airports, life’s too short.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.