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 motorway to London. At first it was a white elephant but the emergence of the low cost budget carriers has transformed Stansted into one of the fastest growing airports in Europe in the last decade.
Today, full capacity of the main terminal is within sight and a new terminal and further out a second runway is planned.
There are no surprises with the terminal itself, all the standard facilities are in place including choice of foreign exchange, pharmacies, news stands etc. There is a good range of eating opportunities ranging from fast food and pub food through to sit down restaurants. In common with all airports run by BAA, the owner, there is a lot of luxury shopping outlets. But remember, the vast majority of flights from Stansted are within the EEC and do not qualify for duty free status.
It normally takes around 30 minutes from touch down to exiting customs with most flights if you have luggage. There is an airport information desk immediately outside customs and a desk for AirportCarz who have a monopoly on taxi services at the airport. Taking a taxi to London is only used by a very small minority of passengers because of the distance and expense.
The Stansted Express takes 45 minutes to London’s Liverpool Street Station and runs about every 15 minutes during the day. Last trains are around midnight. The fares on the Stansted Express are expensive, well over $US40 for a single return fare. The Liverpool Street terminus is also not very convenient for most travellers, being sited in the middle of the financial district of London, 3-5 miles from most of the most popular hotel accommodation. The train stops at an intermediate stop called Tottenham Hale, 10 minutes before Liverpool Street, an interchange with the London Underground (Victoria Line).
Many of the airlines will sell tickets for the Stansted Express, some at a discount, before landing at Stansted Airport.
The budget transfer option into London is to take one of four scheduled coach services run by National Express and Terravision. There is a large, modern coach station in front of the terminal, adjacent to the rail station.
The cheapest option is the Terravision service to Liverpool Street Station, the same route as the Stansted Express. The price is about half that of the Stansted Express Train. Downside like all road based transfers is the London traffic, on a good day the coach will make it in about an hour. National Express run services about every 30 minutes to nearby Stratford Underground at a similar price.
The other route taken by the coaches is Stansted to London Victoria. Both have return fares around $US25. The Terravision service is non-stop, the National Express service makes stops through central London, many of them close to the major hotel districts. The National Express service is a true 24×7 service, the Terravision service only stops for a couple of hours early morning. Some of the highest frequencies are around midnight Stansted-London and very early morning London-Stansted for the first and last flights when the Stansted Express and London Underground have shut down.
Because of the sometimes extraordinarily cheap fares of Ryanair and easyJet a lot of transcontinental travellers have found it cheapest to fly into Heathrow and then complete their journey to their European destination using a low cost airline from Stansted.
National Express run shuttle services between Heathrow and Stansted from the coach station at Stansted. There are usually a couple of services an hour, the journey taking around 90 minutes (though delays on the motorway are almost routine at rush hours). The fare is not cheap either. The return fare is about $US50. It is cheaper to use the indirect National Express service to Stratford and then catch the London Underground to Heathrow, but less comfortable.
If you want to stay over at Stansted Airport before a flight there are plenty of options available. Like all airport hotels at London, room rates are normally much cheaper at weekends than mid-week. If you are transiting from Heathrow or Gatwick which have much fiercer competition, you will probably find rates more expensive at Stansted, particularly in the budget sector.
Immediately adjacent to the terminal is the luxury Stansted Radisson SAS, the only airport hotel where you do not need a hotel transfer vehicle. This is perhaps the most luxurious hotel and at weekends rates can be fairly competitive. The original luxury hotel at Stansted is the 4 star Hilton Hotel on the airport perimeter. The Hilton Stansted runs its own shuttle bus from the coach station about every 30 minutes.
In the immediate vicinity of the airport is an Express by Holiday Inn and a Best Western. The consistently cheapest option is the Days Inn on a motorway services area at the entrance to Stansted Airport. It provides no airport transfer facility itself though of course there are taxis and a local bus service. Apart from the chains there are a lot of independent hotels in the vicinity. These feature hotels for all budgets and tastes, ranging from Country House Hotels, to pubs to traditional Bed and Breakfasts. The countryside around Stansted is surprisingly unspoilt and there is opportunity to stay in a traditional market town or coaching inn for example.