Regular passengers flying into and out of London get used to looking up flights from the usual list of airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, City and Luton. However, there are options that are slightly further afield which could provide a useful departure point. Beginning a trip in central London, I tested whether Southampton Airport would be a convenient ‘London’ airport.
The Route: Southampton Airport (Parkway) station is on the South Western mainline just 1 hour and 6 minutes from London Waterloo. South West Trains from Waterloo call at Clapham Junction on route, from where the journey time is 1 hour: this compares to a rail journey time of 54 minutes to Heathrow (plus connecting walk); 25 minutes to Gatwick (plus the connecting shuttle, if using the North Terminal); and 40 minutes to City.
The Station: The airport and station lie just to the north of Southampton city. Trains from London pull up immediately next to the terminal complex; however, the airport’s welcome is definitely not warm. The southbound platform 2 is rather desolate with few facilities: given its role in serving the airport, it is strange that the canopy doesn’t cover the edge of the platform so your luggage is likely to get wet if it’s raining.
The (lack of) weather protection on platform 1.
Once under the canopy, there is a signed walkway off the platform and across the road to the terminal building. This is where the benefit of the airrail link becomes obvious as the walk is very short. For anyone used to the long corridors, tunnels and escalators at larger airports, the short connection is welcome. It is only 99 steps from plane to train – I’m not sure why it’s not 99 steps the other way around, maybe the is a lift somewhere!
The Information: With such a short walk link between station and terminal there wasn’t really much need for information on the way to the terminal; however, the journey information available for arriving passengers was quite impressive and, most importantly, clear.
Comprehensive onward journey information is displayed in one place, making journey planning simple for the passenger: details of direct rail and bus services are shown as well as onward services from Southampton City Centre.
The Ticket: As the station is further away from London than the main airports, the rail journey is longer and more expensive: an off-peak return is £43.40 (£28.65 with a Network Railcard). Using the airport will obviously cost a little more for the rail journey required, however, you may find that you save this amount on your flight.
The Service: Services from London operate up to 3 times an hour off-peak. As the station is also served by regional South West Trains across the south and CrossCountry trains to the Midlands and the North, up to 6 trains an hour depart the station in each direction, with further destinations available via interchange at Southampton Central.
Note that unless you travel in First Class, South West Trains does not offer plug sockets on their services, this is a shame as it can limit you in making best use of the journey.
The Experience: The real attraction of using Southampton Airport is the very short distance between train and plane, this is a comparable distance as advertised by London City or Southend airports. If the ease of the airrail connection is of value to you and you happen to live near Waterloo or Clapham Junction, then it is definitely worth checking your flight options for your next trip. Neither the station, nor the walk link offer the world class travel facility you’d find at a major airport but it’s so short, you probably won’t notice.
Author: Liam Henderson