What the BAA call London's third "international gateway" - airport to the rest of us - London Stansted was opened in 1991 to relieve pressure from overcrowded Heathrow and Gatwick. It is sited in Essex, more specifically 30 miles north-east of London right on the M11 between London and Cambridge, and handles 13.4 million passengers a year. It was designed by the well-respected architect Sir Norman Foster, and largely handles internal and European flights on budget carriers such as Go and RyanAir.

It began life as a military airbase, construction of which began in 1942. Gradually more and more small domestic flights began to leave from the airport as air travel grew in popularity during the 60s and 70s. However, the British authorities stumbled over establishing Stansted as a major airport. Nevertheless, when it became necessary to build a third London airport Stansted was the obvious site, and in April 1986 work commenced.

Stansted is by far the most appealing of the London airports (please realise this is a relative thing), largely by virtue of it being the best planned and designed. The contrast with the vast concrete monstrosity that is London Gatwick is huge. The terminal building is large and open-plan with surprising amounts of space and good lighting, and check-in is on the whole efficient and painless, especially on the ticketless airlines (Go etc).

Plans are currently afoot to build a second "emergency" runway at the airport, something the local residents are understandably wary of. Although the BAA insist it would be only used in bad weather when the main runway was out of action, the locals suspect something fishy is going on. At the moment work is progressing on the already massive long-stay car park, the bizarrely named Pink Elephant, as part of a £200 million development project that began this year. So extensive is the concrete sprawl that a fleet of buses snake their way around, however this does nothing to stop some determined types from walking 3-4 miles to the terminal.

The place has the usual complement of homogenous retail outlets. For the lower gate numbers a monorail journey is required to get to the gate, something worth bearing in mind if you're planning on cutting things a bit fine. And whilst laughing at expensive luggage cases being destroyed by the savage conveyer belt at baggage reclaim is neither big nor clever, it is quite fun.

Sources: http://fly.to/LondonStansted/, http://www.baa.co.uk/

How not to miss your plane and get all flustered in Britain's worst Airport

Stansted Airport is now one of the three busiest Airports in the UK and home of every low-thrills airline the UK has to offer. It is currently serving 16 million passengers per year, travelling on 26 different airlines to 105 destinations. With the massive concentration of low-thrills and charter airlines, the type of passenger is completely different from, say, Terminal 1 at Heathrow: younger, poorer and often pissed out of their head, causing all sorts of problems on and off the plane. It has one of the slowest and most unreliable trainservices serving it (the very ironically named Stansted Express) and is terribly far away from central London. I have the unpleasant honour to use this horrid airport twice weekly and slowly but surely have designed some survival strategies.

Departing from Stansted

If you have to take the Stansted Express, always check their website the night (or morning)n before you leave and add an extra hour of crisis management time to your schedule, or suffer the same effect as Spiregrain and Strawberryfrog on their way to Cologne and plenty of other of my friends: Engineering works on the track, and your arrival will be delayed by an hour, with your flight gone. If you can, get somebody to take you to the airport with a car or, if you live like me in the East of London, take a Minicab. It's only marginally more expensive and will take you from door to the terminal in less than 30 minutes, while with Public Transport this will take you probably 90 minutes.

In Stansted, always try to arrive ca 1h 15 prior to departure: that will leave the check in counter virtually empty (Ryanair passengers seem to all check in two hours prior to their flights) and leave you enough time to get through security. Stansted has mostly 4 securitygates open at one time: take a minute or so to analyze throughput of passengers: there is always one or two gates that are doubly as fast as the other gates, giving you some precious time to relax on the other side.

Past the gates, forget the Weatherspoon and Garfunkel pubs: they are outrageously expensive, full of pissed englishmen, full to the hilt and you have to wait forever for your food (and a table), so you'll have to to wolf it down to not miss your flight. Best to go to the other side of the hall to Pret a manger, where there's always free tables, reasonably quick service and the coffee is pretty good. If you insist on having a drink, go to your gate and get a drink at the bar there: they are always empty and you can sit down and watch the planes take off and land with your beer in hand (and watch the Ryanair passengers queue in front of their gates 1 hour before departure.

If you want the internet, Stansted is offering wireless LAN by BT Openzone. What they don't tell you is they charge you 6 pounds for the pleasure of wireless surfing, so maybe 30 minutes without E2 will give you some time to read.

Arriving in Stansted

If you fly an airline that makes you arrive in Stansted, try to avoid checking in your luggage at all costs: I have waited up to 45 minutes for my stuff to appear and 30 minutes is quite normal, time that you could already spent on getting towards London. If you can, just walk as quickly as you can out of the terminal and downstairs towards the trainstation. Don't stop to buy a ticket, you can always get one on the train, but you might miss that crucial timewindow to get on it. If at all possible, get somebody to pick you up (either a friend or a minicab). If you want to take a train northbound from Stansted, forget it. The only reliable connection is the train to Cambridge. If you have to go any further north, it is quicker to go to London and take a GNER or Virgin train to take you up country, as the connections from Cambridge towards the big mainlines are horrible and WAGN is know to cancel trains by the bucketload.

If at all possible, avoid Stansted at all. Rather spend 30 pounds more on a flight to Heathrow or London City Airport. You will be happier person, and your trip will be a better one.

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