Using the train to catch your plane
A Docklands Railway train pulls up to the platform at the London City Airport. (DLR)
Some business travellers rarely consider using public transport to get to or from the airport. Since someone else is usually picking up the tab, they’ll jump in a cab or call a car service for the trip instead.
But in some cases (like when you’re travelling during roadway rush hours), it makes a lot more sense to take the train.
Airport-to-city connections vary a lot among airports — some connections require travellers to change trains once or twice and some require a bus, shuttle or “people mover” ride to a nearby station. These multi-modal options are tough on travellers burdened with heavy baggage or tight schedules.
To me, the best airport-to-city connections are those that offer “one seat rides” where you board the train at an on-airport station and don’t get off until you reach the centre of town (or wherever your business takes you.)
Among the trains-to-planes I’ve taken recently, these are my favourites.
London’s Heathrow Express train between the airport and Paddington Station is frequent, simple and very fast (15 minutes) considering London traffic these days. Even though it seems dear at £18 one-way, it’s much less expensive than taking a taxi (£60). I’m also a fan of the easy and convenient Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and the mod Docklands Railway link to London City Airport. If you want to go even cheaper, you can always jump on London’s tube at Heathrow for the trip to town, but beware: the trip is lengthy, travelling with luggage can be tough on crowded trains and the service is frequently plagued by stoppages.
Frankfurt Airport offers fast and easy local and regional rail connections from massive stations located underneath the airport. But a word of warning to American travellers without chip-and–pin credit cards: cards with only magnetic stripes don’t work at automated ticketing kiosks, and queues at manned booths can be lengthy at peak times. (Similarly, the train station at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport connects passengers to the city or elsewhere in the country.)
After taking many dusty and uncomfortable taxi rides to/from Athens’ Elefthérios Venizélos Airport, I was pleased when a new airport rail link opened just in time for the 2004 Summer Olympics. The modern one-seat-ride from the airport station to central Athens’ Syntagma Square takes about half an hour.
Similar to London’s Heathrow Express, Hong Kong built a dedicated train line that connects its airport at Chek Lap Kok to both Kowloon and central Hong Kong in as few as 24 minutes. Trains travel between the airport and the city every 12 minutes.
Atlanta’s MARTA rapid rail system offers frequent and easy trips from the airport’s main concourse to downtown, along the Peachtree Street spine, and up to the popular midtown or Buckhead areas, which takes 20-30 minutes.
Both Seattle and Portland in the US Pacific Northwest now offer one-seat ride rail links between their airports and central business districts — but since they are part of the local light rail system, the airport to city trips are lengthy at 30 to 40 minutes.
The Metro connection between Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport (in service since 1977) is a cinch, and a long time favourite of mine for beating the District’s awful rush hour traffic.
Which airport-to-city links are the fastest and easiest for you — or which have let you down? Please leave your comments on our Facebook page.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel