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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