Landing in the UK - the difference between landing in Gatwick & Heathrow

7 June 2022

Now that international travel is largely open to South African citizens (with Covid restrictions applying in some extreme cases) we can once again turn our attention to visiting friends and family or simply vacationing in foreign countries. Of particular interest at the moment is travel to the United Kingdom, especially with the Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held from 28 July 2022 in England’s West Midlands (commonly called the Birmingham Games).

Let us answer a few commonly asked questions upfront.

Is it easy for South Africans to fly into Heathrow or Gatwick from South Africa?

Which is the better airport to land in, Heathrow or Gatwick?

Are there more flights from South Africa into Heathrow than Gatwick?

How safe are these airports for travellers?

What is the difference between flying into Gatwick and Heathrow?

First of all, it is pretty easy for South Africans to fly into either Heathrow or Gatwick airports. 

Which airport you fly into depends largely on which airline you book through but whatever the case, you can land at either Heathrow or Gatwick without any hassle.

Both Gatwick and Heathrow have their advantages and disadvantages but generally speaking, Heathrow is the prime destination for international, long-haul flights, which clearly includes flights from South Africa. Anyway, Heathrow is fully geared up to handle large passenger volumes and has better transport links into London than does Gatwick.

Heathrow handles nearly twice the volume of travellers than does Gatwick and has five terminals compared to Gatwick’s two.

Despite the large numbers of travellers who arrive and leave London daily, both of this city’s major airports boast state-of-the-art security measures in their terminals and throughout the entire complex. 

Travellers need not be concerned for their physical safety but needless to say, it is recommended that travellers, as is the case in all the world’s busy transport hubs - whether it be a railway station, bus terminus or airport - be mindful of possible criminal activities.

Just as Lanseria and OR Tambo Airports in Gauteng have their pros and cons, and just as JF Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York differ in their offerings, London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports equally have their differences; in size, popularity and connections to a major city to mention but a few. Heathrow and Gatwick airports differ in very many respects so in this article Flight Centre has taken an in-depth look at what each has to offer; giving you some insight into these very large people-moving operations which between them handle well over 125 million passengers per year!


Heathrow and Gatwick Airports are two of the five international airports that are based in London. Their full and respective names are London Heathrow International Airport and London Gatwick International Airport.

The airports differ in many respects. London Heathrow International Airport is bigger with five terminals and four runways. On the other hand, London Gatwick International Airport has two terminals. It has two runways but only one is used.

Heathrow is the primary and busiest airport in London while Gatwick follows as the secondary airport. In addition, as a secondary airport, it is also the second busiest airport following Heathrow.


The name is well recognised.

Is the third busiest airport in the world.

In terms of passenger traffic, it is also the busiest airport in the European Union and it is the third busiest airport in terms of traffic movements.

Is popular with most international travellers.

Has access to road and railway transport and to taxis, buses and coaches and car hire.

Is located on the west side of London about 25 kilometres from central London. It also has better and faster rail links compared to Gatwick.

Is the base of many main airlines in the world and is home to British Airways, the UK flag carrier.


Is Europe’s leading airport when it comes to point-to-point flights.

Is popular with Europeans travelling within Europe.

Has access to road and railway transport and access to taxis, buses and coaches and car hire.

Is located 45 km miles south of Central London.

Represents all three kinds of airline business models: the full service, charter, and the economy or no-frills airlines. Gatwick is favoured when it comes to chartered flights.

Connections to London

In terms of connections to London, the two airports are vastly different. Gatwick is located some 45 kilometres south of London and is accessible by both the Gatwick Express and mainline Thameslink trains. It takes around half an hour to get into London using the Gatwick Express, however, mainline trains may take longer, but connect to more destinations past London such as Peterborough and Luton.

On the other hand, London Heathrow is only about 25 kilometres west of the city centre. As such, the time taken to reach the airport is around 15-20 minutes on the Heathrow Express. The Heathrow Express can be pricey, however, there is also TFL Rail, and the Piccadilly Line taking passengers into London for less.


According to CAA statistics, in one year Heathrow Airport carried a total of 80+ million passengers across 470,000+ aircraft movements. During that same year, Gatwick had just over half of this figure at 45 million passengers with 280,000+ aircraft movements.

While London Gatwick is aiming to be able to use its spare runway in the future, right now it has only one useable runway. London Heathrow, on the other hand, has two permanent runways. Heathrow Airport has an impressive five terminals, compared to Gatwick's two. 


While Heathrow Airport undoubtedly has much more variety with more long-range international carriers, London Gatwick has a wider variety of types of operations. Heathrow lacks the low-cost element of Gatwick Airport. London Gatwick is a hub of low-cost operations, which London Heathrow is not. 

Defining which is the better airport for travellers to and from London is difficult because at the end of the day it comes down to where they want to go and with which airline they are flying.

In summary:

What is the difference between the two London Airports?

Heathrow and Gatwick are two international airports based in London, United Kingdom. Their full names are London Heathrow International Airport and London Gatwick International Airport respectively. 

Heathrow is London’s (and the country’s) main and busiest airport. Gatwick follows as the secondary and second busiest airport. Heathrow is larger and has better links in and out of the airport to Central London.

Heathrow has five terminals and four runways. Meanwhile, Gatwick has two terminals and two runways.

Heathrow is nearer to Central London. The airport is located 25 kilometres west of the capital. Travel time is usually 15 minutes. On the other hand, Gatwick is located 45 kilometres south of London. It takes 30 minutes to get in and out of the city to the airport and vice-versa.

Heathrow is the base of many airlines from every corner of the globe. On the other hand, Gatwick services three kinds of airlines: charter, full service, and economy.

In simple terms, Heathrow is mostly used by passenger planes while Gatwick Airport is used mostly by charter planes that land in London and the economy or no-frills airlines.

Heathrow is named after a hamlet. In contrast, Gatwick is named after a family and a manor house that bears the family name.

We hope we have shed some light onto the two airports and how they differ.