Know Your Big (and Little) London Airports

In a 45-mile radius, London has 14 airports that can accommodate everything from Airbus A380s to the smallest propeller planes. Ten airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, cater to commercial flights and the 90,000 private jets that descend upon the city annually. Four airports serve only the latter category. Here, our guide to choosing the right runway on which to land. 

Courtesy Heathrow Airport
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Heathrow

The airport ranks among the globe’s busiest (third in the world and first in Europe), with 73.4 million passengers in 2014, 80 airlines, two runways, and 185 destinations served. Flying into Heathrow and taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station remains the favored way to get into the city: It takes only 15 minutes. And after an 11-year, $18-billion renovation, Heathrow is now a destination in its own right. The airport’s 300 retail stores include everything from Burberry in Terminal 2 to Chanel in Terminal 3 to Alexander McQueen in Terminal 4 to Harrods in Terminals 2, 3, 4, and 5 (terminal shopping transfers can be arranged). There are even world-class restaurants, like chef Heston Blumenthal’s the Perfectionists’ Café, in Terminal 2. Don’t bother trying to fly a private jet to Heathrow though. “The airport management has actively discouraged private-jet travel,” says Simon Wheatley, director of the U.K. private-jet division of Air Partner, the queen’s jet provider. “For the major airports, they make their money getting lots of passengers spending money in the shops, so when you get a private jet coming in, you have four people coming instead of 400.” Smart Choice: Book the airport’s Heathrow VIP service (from $3,100 for up to three people), which buys access to a private suite for check-in and customs clearance, a personal shopper, and a chauffeur who drives right up to the plane.