Thameslink to London Luton Airport by Train and Bus
Heading back to Edinburgh from London, train fares were prohibitively expensive and services scarce on a Sunday afternoon. The next best option was to get a flight, in order to have a comparable travel time of less than 5 hours. Budget airlines save the day in the UK, just like in the rest of the world pre-corona times, and I’ve got a ticket back to Edinburgh with easyJet, departing from London Luton Airport.
To get to London Luton Airport from central London, the best option was ironically the train.
London St Pancras International
From London St Pancras International, Thameslink trains towards Luton Airport Parkway (bound for Luton or Bedford) arrive very frequently – as little as every 3 minutes, with caveats. Thameslink trains depart from the lower platforms of London St Pancras International, at Platform B.
An Off-Peak Single ticket from London St Pancras International to Luton Airport Parkway costs £11.30 (~S$20.94). Note that Luton Airport Parkway is the nearest railway station serving London Luton Airport, but a paid shuttle bus transfer of £2.40 (~S$4.45) is still required to get to the airport proper.
A through Off-Peak Single ticket from London St Pancras International to Luton Airport costs £13.90 (~S$25.76). This includes the cost of the paid shuttle bus transfer at Luton Airport Parkway in the train ticket. A railcard reduces this fare to £9.90.
Annoyingly, purchasing the through Off-Peak Single ticket from London St Pancras International to Luton Airport costs 20p more than purchasing it separately. The intricacies of National Rail fares remain a mystery, now and forever.
The interior of the Thameslink Class 700 Desiro City. Thameslink trains may be formed of 8 or 12 cars.
Do note that for Luton Airport Parkway, different trains have different stopping patterns.
Trains to Luton stop at more stations than trains to Bedford, and trains to Bedford tend to overtake trains to Luton along the way between West Hampstead Thameslink and St Albans.
If you see a train to Bedford arriving 3 minutes later than the train to Luton at London St Pancras International, it is worth to wait for the Bedford train as it will get you to Luton Airport 8 minutes early. This was indeed the case on the day that I took the train, as an earlier departure had a later arrival time in Luton Airport Parkway.
The core section of Thameslink include London St Pancras International, Farringdon, City Thameslink, and London Blackfriars, so the information here is valid for these 4 stations too. If you’re not sure of which station you’re boarding from when purchasing in advance, you can purchase a London Thameslink origin ticket which gets you access from these stations (and also London Bridge, Elephant & Castle, Kentish Town, and London Euston) for the same fares mentioned above.
The train passes through the suburbs of North London with some parts giving way to more scenic open pastures.
Luton Airport Parkway
The journey from London St Pancras International to London Luton Airport by the Bedford train took 36 minutes. As it was my first time on this route, I had not taken care to board the train towards the rear cars and thus had a long walk to the station exit. In order to catch the scheduled bus from the station, it is important to minimize the walk which involves several sets of stairs.
Luton Airport Parkway Shuttle Bus 888 (formerly Train2Plane)
With most passengers using Luton Airport Parkway to get to London Luton Airport, the Shuttle Bus queue is already prepared outside of Luton Airport Parkway Railway Station. While not reflected on the bus, this service is listed as London Luton Airport Shuttle Bus 888 on train timetables. The timetable, however, did not appear to be entirely helpful, and the bus that I was apparently scheduled for based on the times given on the National Rail website was non-existent.
All passengers board the bus from the front, and the driver individually collects fares or checks connecting tickets making the boarding process rather slow. As such I had arrived at the airport at least 15 minutes after my original scheduled time. It is thus a good idea to leave some allowance here so as to ensure that you do not miss your flight.
The Luton Airport Parkway Shuttle Bus runs every 10 minutes all day between 5am and midnight, and through-the-night service for all train connections.
If you have purchased your train ticket to Luton Airport (LUA), the Shuttle Bus fare is included in the train ticket. Show your train ticket to the driver.
If your train ticket is to Luton Airport Parkway (LTN) only, you can pay the Shuttle Bus fare of £2.40 (~S$4.45) directly on board by contactless payment (Visa payWave or MasterCard® PayPass™ only).
London Luton Airport
The Shuttle Bus drops off right outside the London Luton Airport terminal building at Bay T. This is the same bay where arriving passengers board the bus to Luton Parkway Station. There was a terribly long line for the departing bus and it looked like a dreadful journey.
easyJet Flight U219
After security, Luton Airport provides a surprising number of amenities – a large duty free shop as well as several food outlets and pharmacies etc. from which a meal deal can be purchased. It is indeed a good idea to grab something cheap from the airport and have it on the budget flight to save you both trouble and expense from buying food and drink on the plane. No one seemed to mind passengers eating their own food on the easyJet flight.
As with all (budget) airlines, some delays or cancellations can be expected and a group of passengers were seen in an adjacent gate arguing with ground handling staff on how their cancelled flight situation could be resolved.
With an online check-in without baggage, it was straight to the gate for me. My flight, easyJet U219, was departing from Gate 20. For such a domestic flight, no ID checks were required unless you had check-in baggage. My self-printed boarding pass sufficed for boarding.
As with all good budget airlines in Europe, boarding is done out in the freezing cold on the tarmac.
Unlike Ryanair which has retractable stairs at the front exits of their Boeing 737-800, mobile stairs are provided on both exits of easyJet’s Airbus A319.
G-EZFV would be flying me from London Luton to Edinburgh this evening. After a few minutes delay, we were on our way but the 55 minute flying time on a 75 minute sector made up for any lost time, and we arrived in Edinburgh as scheduled. From there it was a few minutes walk out of the terminal to an Airlink 100 bus, which took me to Princes Street in Edinburgh city center.
My journey from London to Edinburgh went smoothly, although there was much walking and hurrying from each mode of transport to the next. As compared to my train journey two days prior, I saved about 10 minutes in all, door-to-door as I had arrived at King’s Cross Station at about 5.30pm and reached Princes Street at about 9.30pm. The plane is thus a viable alternative and comparable fare-wise to the train, although one needs to be able to walk fairly quickly and be happy and comfortable with making these different transfers. Based on previous flight data, it appears that most domestic flights in the UK are relatively on schedule, which suggests that flying is generally a reliable way of travelling from one part of the UK to another.