With Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding only days away, we thought it’s timely to look closer at Britain’s capital airports in order to find out whether these London airports are actually living up to the (new) royal standards. Plus, is there even such a thing as a royal airport? The answer to the latter question is yes and no. Actually more no than yes. A ‘yes’, because for shorter flights the Queen and the rest of the British Royal Family use RAF Northolt (IATA: NHT), a Royal Air Force station approximately 10 km north of London Heathrow Airport (IATA: LHR). From there they use BAe 146 or HS125 aircraft from ‘No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron’ when available according to the Monarchy’s official website. More no, because in order to save costs the British Royal Family is encouraged to use commercially scheduled flights. This they do mostly out of Heathrow as their royal travel grant-in-aid documents reveal (see for yourself here).
So, is London Heathrow (IATA: LHR) worthy of their royal guests? The answer (as so often) is, it depends. With the royals most likely not having to go through the general public areas at Heathrow, they would enjoy a very different airport to what you can expect. But even without a VIP status the experience must not be terrible. Heathrow’s terminal 5 is the newest one and well designed. The Queen even officially opened the terminal back in 2008. With an airy departure hall, nearby gates, all the fancy shops you can think of and the wide range of different restaurants (even Gordon Ramsay has got one there), your experience at terminal 5 can be a very pleasant one. We reviewed the terminal here and here and very recently wrote about how you transfer to terminal 3 in 30 minutes (read how it’s done here). Speaking of terminal 3, unfortunately you won’t have quite the same experience there as T3 feels a lot more crowded and much older – our review can be found here.
Every now and then the royals also fly out of London Gatwick (IATA: LGW) like for example when the Prince of Wales and the Dutchess of Cornwall flew to Tobago in March 2008 (see travel grant document). London Gatwick, recently sold by BAA to Global Infrastructure Partners, the owner of London’s City Airport, is the UK’s 2nd busiest airport by passenger numbers. As with so many London airports, it can feel a bit crowded and slightly outdated. However, when we reviewed the North Terminal of the airport a while back, it was a fairly pleasant experience (find out why here).
Other airports around London include City Airport (IATA: LCY; reviewed here), a popular option for business travellers, London Stansted (IATA: STN; reviewed here) and London Luton (IATA: LTN; reviewed here). None of those airports were used by the British royals according to our information. Who knows – William and Kate might kick off a whole new royal travel era. One thing is for sure though, wherever they go from now on, they will attract a lot of attention regardless of where they fly out of.