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Why I Always Pick London City Airport Over Gatwick or Heathrow

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Daniel Ross
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Daniel Ross

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Daniel has loved aviation and travel his entire life. He earned a Master of Science in Air Transport Management and has written about travel and aviation in publications like Simple Flying, The Points...
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Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and que...
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If you’re flying to London from the U.S., your best options are usually Heathrow Airport (LHR) and Gatwick Airport (LGW). However, if you’re the type of traveler who likes to visit more than 1 place on a trip, you’ll likely fly in and out of London at least once. That’s when you should get acquainted with London City Airport (LCY).

I’ve lived in London on and off for around 10 years now, so I’ve flown in and out of the city well over 100 times. But it’s only recently that I’ve discovered the magic of City.

By no means do I intend to throw shade at Heathrow or Gatwick (in fact, I always stick up for Heathrow when I hear people complaining about it). Thanks to its far-reaching connectivity and the fact it’s British Airways’ main hub, Heathrow has almost always been my go-to. Of the 174 times I’ve flown in and out of the airport over the years, I can count on a single hand the amount of times I’ve had a bad experience.

I’m not getting deep into London Luton Airport (LTN) or London Stansted (STN), as I avoid those airports like the plague. The last time I flew from either of the 2 was back in 2019 for a trip that I didn’t book! Flying from Luton or Stansted means paying for an expensive “express” train, more than likely having to fly at an ungodly hour, and, worst of all, taking a seat on an ultra-low-cost carrier like Ryanair or Wizz Air (I actually quite like EasyJet, as it happens).

I hope from this article that you’ll agree with me when I say departing and arriving at London City is a far smoother, quicker, and more streamlined experience that just cannot be replicated at London’s bigger airports. Let me explain the reasons why.

London City Airport Is Closest to Central London

I mean, it’s in the name.

At just 8.5 miles from Charing Cross (the official center of London), City is so much closer than Heathrow (around 15 miles) and Gatwick (almost 40).

London City Airport
Welcome to London City Airport.

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Bank Station (in the city) to London City Airport takes 18 minutes and is the only train line that serves the airport.

It Only Costs a Few Quid To Get There

Using public transport is by far the cheapest and best value way to get to any of London’s airports compared to what you’ll pay for a taxi or an Uber.

Getting to London City Airport costs as little as £3 ($3.80) from Central London via Tube and a transfer onto the DLR. The fare goes up to £3.70 ($4.70) during the peak hours of 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., excluding Saturdays and Sundays.

Of course, you can take a cab or an Uber from wherever you’re staying to City, but the journey time will be longer, and the fare will be around 10 times that of the Tube and DLR.

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No Crowds

As I mentioned, I’m only starting to get to know City, but I’ve never once had to wait longer than a few minutes to check in.

London City Airport check in
No lines at check-in.

The same can be said for the entire process, from checking in to arriving in the departures area.

London City Airport boarding pass scanners
Passengers scan their boarding passes before clearing security.
Hot Tip:

Wondering how to get to England on the cheap? Check out our guide to flying to London on points and miles.

Liquids and Laptops Stay Inside Your Bag

With no TSA PreCheck and militant rules about liquids, navigating airport security in the U.K. can be a headache for many an international traveler.

Such is not the case at City, where newly installed next-generation scanners mean that you can leave everything inside your hand luggage. No unpacking and repacking of bags makes for a far more streamlined process. City is the only airport in London where you’re guaranteed to use the new scanners on every visit.

London City Airport scanner
Updated security scanners mean everything can stay in your carry-on at London City.

That means containers holding up to 2 liters of liquid can pass freely through the scanners without causing an issue.

Given the removal of restrictions, I was curious as to why I was still asked to empty my refillable water bottle. London City Airport later confirmed to me that it was because metal containers must still be emptied out.

London City Airport liquids
Liquids in metal containers must still be emptied out.

Fares Are Often Cheaper

Not even counting low-cost airlines like EasyJet, Ryanair, and Wizz Air, you can often find cheaper fares from London City than from Heathrow or Gatwick. This works particularly well for domestic flights within the U.K.

For example, the early-morning commuter flight to Edinburgh (EDI) from London City is £32 ($41) cheaper than the similarly timed departure from Heathrow.

City to Edinburgh
It’s often cheaper to fly to Edinburgh from City than Heathrow.

The same can be said for cities further afield, like Zurich (ZRH).

City to Zurich
Save money flying from London City when heading out of London. Image Credit: Google Flights

In terms of leisure destinations, Barcelona (BCN) is a great example. Unless, that is, you’d be tempted by the £2 cheaper fare that would get you into Barcelona at midnight.

LCY to BCN
Consider London City when planning a visit to Barcelona from London. Image Credit: Google Flights

The other factor to consider, as mentioned above, is the cost and the length of time it takes to get to your airport of choice.

Unless you take a very long journey by bus or get a friend to drop you off for free, traveling from Central London to any of the city’s other airports is almost always more expensive than your journey via Tube and DLR to London City.

Where You Can Fly to From London City Airport

You might be surprised to hear that you can fly to 33 destinations nonstop from London City, including Amsterdam (AMS), Antwerp (ANR), Barcelona (BCN), Belfast City (BHD), Bergerac (EGC), Berlin (BER), Billund (BLL), Chambery (CMF), Dublin (DUB), Edinburgh (EDI), Faro (FAO), Florence (FLR), Frankfurt (FRA), Geneva (GVA), Glasgow (GLA), Ibiza (IBZ), Isle of Man (IOM), Luxemburg (LUX), Málaga (AGP), Milan (LIN), Mykonos (JMK), Nice (NCE), Palma (PMI), Prague (PRG), Rome (FCO), Rotterdam (RTM), Salzburg (SLZ), San Sebastian (EAS), Skiathos (JSI), Split (SPU), Thessaloniki (SKG), Vilnius (VNO), and Zurich (ZRH).

Here’s a map to show you the extent of the airport’s network:

London City Airport Destinations
Routes from LCY. Image Credit: FlightConnections

A Haven for AvGeeks

This reason is a little more niche. However, if you’re reading Upgraded Points, there’s a chance you’ll be into planes and aviation in general.

At City, instead of parking perpendicular to the terminal, as is most commonly the case at airports, aircraft park at around a 45-degree angle from the terminal because of the limited space available.

Factor in the floor-to-ceiling windows by the gates, and you can get up close and personal with some less frequently spotted jets like the ones in the image below.

London City Airport aircraft
A Helvetic Airways Embraer E190 lands from Zurich as an Aurigny Air Services ATR 72 is readied for its departure to the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

The AvGeekery doesn’t stop there.

London City doesn’t use jet bridges, so all passengers must walk outside from the gate and board their aircraft via the stairs. Come rain or shine, it’s pretty cool to look directly into the engine of the aircraft you’re about to fly.

London City Airport BA Embraer E190 close up
Up close and personal when boarding a BA Embraer E190.

But London City Is Not Perfect

London City has a lot going for it. That said, there’s room for improvement.

For starters, it’s one of the only major city airports that I know of without a single airport lounge. As such, passengers have nowhere to go other than the main departures and gate areas.

With its low ceilings and rows of seats packed in wherever they’ll fit, it feels more like a downtown bus station rather than an inner-city airport.

London City Airport terminal
The departures area of London City Airport.

Thankfully, the way you can breeze through check-in and security at London City means you usually don’t have much time to kill anyway, so the lack of lounges and dreary aesthetics aren’t much of a problem.

Final Thoughts

Don’t overlook London City Airport when planning a trip to Europe from London. Whether departing or arriving, the airport experience is almost guaranteed to be more streamlined and less stressful than using an alternative.

Even without a lounge, if there’s an option to fly from City, I’ll take it.

Oh, and the views you get over the city are incredible …

London City Airport departure
Just look at that view.
Daniel Ross's image

About Daniel Ross

Daniel has loved aviation and travel his entire life. He earned a Master of Science in Air Transport Management and has written about travel and aviation in publications like Simple Flying, The Points Guy, and more.

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