Of the London airports, Stansted airport is the furthest from central London, about 40 miles. The airport is dominated by low cost airlines and in particular Ryanair and easyJet, the largest low-cost airlines in Europe.
The vast majority of flights are European or British domestic flights.
The airport also has considerable charter traffic, particularly for the British who travel in packages to the sun.
The main intercontinental and state carriers such as British Airways, Virgin, American and Singapore Airlines all use Heathrow or Gatwick airports in London.
The airport is an established airport but was relaunched 15 years ago with a brand new terminal and infrastructure, including a direct rail link and the motorway to London. Initially it was a white elephant, but the emergence of low-cost carriers has transformed Stansted into one of the fastest growing airports in Europe in the last decade.
Today the full capacity of the main terminal is at hand and a new runway and second runway is planned.
There are no surprises with the terminal itself, all standard facilities are in place including the choice of foreign currency, pharmacies, newsstands etc. There is a good range of eating opportunities ranging from fast food and pub food to restaurants. In common with all the airports managed by BAA, the owner, there are many luxury shops. But remember, the vast majority of flights from Stansted are located within the EEC and do not qualify for duty free status.
Normally it takes about 30 minutes from the touchdown to exit customs with most flights if you have luggage. There is an airport information desk immediately outside customs and a desk for AirportCarz which has a monopoly of airport taxi services. Taking a taxi to London is only used by a very small minority of passengers due to the distance and expenses.
If your destination is London, the fastest option is to take the Stansted Express train. The train station is located below the terminal, so get off at the platforms via escalators or elevators.
The Stansted Express takes 45 minutes at Liverpool Street station in London and leaves approximately every 15 minutes during the day. The last trains are around midnight. Rates on the Stansted Express are expensive, well over $ US40 for a single round trip. Also the Liverpool Street terminus is not very comfortable for most travelers, being located in the middle of London's financial district, 5.5 miles from most of the most popular hotel accommodations. The train stops at an intermediate stop called Tottenham Hale, 10 minutes before Liverpool Street, a junction with the London Underground (Victoria Line).
Many airlines will sell tickets for the Stansted Express, some at a discount, before landing at Stansted Airport.
The option of transferring the budget to London is to take one of the four scheduled bus services operated by National Express and Terravision. There is a large, modern bus station opposite the terminal, adjacent to the train station.
The cheapest option is the Terravision service for Liverpool Street Station, the same as the Stansted Express. The price is about half of the Stansted express train. A negative aspect like all road transfers is London traffic, on a good day the bus will arrive in about an hour. National Express services run every 30 minutes for the nearby Stratford Underground for a similar price.
The other bus route is from Stansted to London Victoria. Both have round-trip fares around $ 25 USD. The Terravision service is non-stop, the National Express service stops in central London, many of them near the main hotel districts. The National Express service is a true 24×7 service, the Terravision service only stops for a couple of hours early in the morning. Some of the higher frequencies are around midnight Stansted-London and very early London-Stansted for the first and last flight when the Stansted Express and the London Underground have closed.
Due to the sometimes extraordinarily cheap Ryanair and easyJet fares, many transcontinental travelers have found the cheapest flight to Heathrow and then completed their journey to their European destination using a low-cost airline from Stansted.
The National Express shuttle service connects Heathrow and Stansted from the Stansted bus station. There are usually a couple of services now, the journey takes about 90 minutes (although highway delays are almost routine during peak hours). The rate is not even cheap. The return fare is around $ US50. It is cheaper to use the indirect National Express service to Stratford and then take the London Underground to Heathrow, but less convenient.
If you want to stay at Stansted Airport before a flight there are many options available. Like all London airport hotels, room rates are normally much cheaper on weekends than mid-week. If you are traveling from Heathrow or Gatwick, which has much more fierce competition, you will probably find more expensive fares at Stansted, particularly in the budget sector.
Immediately adjacent to the terminal is the luxurious Stansted Radisson SAS, the only hotel in the airport where a hotel transfer vehicle is not required. This is perhaps the most luxurious hotel and at weekend rates can be quite competitive. The original luxury hotel in Stansted is the 4-star Hilton Hotel on the perimeter of the airport. The Hilton Stansted operates its own shuttle bus from the bus station approximately every 30 minutes.
In the immediate vicinity of the airport there is an Express by Holiday Inn and a Best Western. The consistently cheapest option is the Days Inn in a motorway service area at the entrance to Stansted Airport. It does not offer any airport transfer service, although of course there are taxis and a local bus service.
In addition to the chains there are many independent hotels nearby. These hotels have all budgets and tastes, from Country House hotels to pubs and traditional bed and breakfasts. The countryside around Stansted is surprisingly unspoiled and there is the possibility of staying in a traditional market town or an inn for example.