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King Charles rides Luton Airport’s DART train – but when can you?

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One particularly frustrating aspect of flying from Luton Airport is the fact that anyone arriving by train must get on a connecting shuttle bus to the terminal building.

Even worse, the shuttle bus isn’t free unless your train ticket is to ‘Luton Airport’. Anyone with a ticket to ‘Luton Parkway Station’ needs to pay an additional £2.40 one-way.

Luton DART airport transit

Council-owned Luton Rising, which owns the airport, finally realised this was a problem. In 2016 it announced it was building an automated people-mover to shuttle passengers from the train station to the terminal. Called Luton DART (Direct Air-Rail Transit), it was supposed to open in 2021.

That didn’t happen, of course. It was delayed to this year and has now been delayed again, with an expected opening sometime in ‘early 2023’. Whilst the track and stations are built, it appears that the testing phase is causing the delay.

King Charles was already booked in, however. The council pushed ahead with his visit on Tuesday regardless as you can see from the photos here.

The King also unveiled a plaque at the Luton DART Central Terminal station commemorating his visit which you will be able to see …. at some point …. in 2023, or whenever.

TNU’s Sharon Ross joined the royal party for the three-minute ride to the top and told me that it is smoothly impressive although the physical connections to the Luton Parkway Station are not yet complete.

The media who attended the event were told that the opening date would be announced in the New Year, and that there would be 10 weeks advance notice. This means, realistically, that there is little chance of it being operational before Easter.

(EDIT, April 2023: Our Luton DART and Luton Airport Express review is now published, click here.)

Comments (50)

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  • TimM says:

    There should have a automated rail transit between the terminals at Manchester. The distance between MAN T3 and T2 is practically the same as between Gatwick’s North & South terminals (a little over 1km). There used to be a free shuttle bus connecting the terminals but then MAG decided we could walk it instead. Even with the multi-year project to extend T2, there was no provision for a rail transit in the plan.

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, I had to do that walk recently. It’s far!

    • Oliver says:

      Even T1/T2 to the railway station is not a short walk and the automated walkway has been stopped permanently it seems.

    • Red Flyer says:

      It’s Manchester – what do you expect from what is the worst air travel experience in the whole of the UK!

      • mvcvz says:

        You’ve never been to LBA then?

        • Paul McC says:

          Honest, Manchester is just so atrocious in so many ways I can’t imagine any airport being worse. It is quite literally as if they are trying to be the worst airport in the world. I’d not have anything to do with Manchester airport, never ever again.

    • dougzz99 says:

      The reverse can also be true. I love Tampa airport, it’s works so well in almost all regards, and is so much better than Orlando if you want to visit central Florida. But the one really annoying thing is the wait for the transit to avoid a 150m walk.

  • Kekelstvo says:

    you complain about that we need pay another £2.40 for shuffle bus
    but there is already missing the information that the new version will be minimaly twice expensive

    • Steve says:

      Yes exactly, it’s going to be £4.90 singles sold only.
      The return for the bus is £3.80

      • ADS says:

        and with there being no walking route from the train station – this is effectively an extra 5 quid on your flight ticket

        if you’re in a group, it will presumably be cheaper to get a taxi from the station to the airport

  • Roberto says:

    Those days are gone when the bus was free….

    And then

    The happy memories of the hassle of £1 p/p for the bus
    We take coins only, no notes or debit/credit cards…
    Understandable but try to explain this to tourist crowds before me ….

  • Jeff morgan says:

    The Dart is costing £281m but the auditors have said it is only valued at a mere £77m. This is something the town’s ratepayers will have to pay off for years.

    • Londonsteve says:

      And you can probably halve that valuation if an enterprising local company buys the existing transfer buses and keeps running them as a public transport service at the existing rates, starving the DART of revenue. I’m not sure Luton Airport could say ‘no’, there are probably competition laws to prevent them from turning DART into a monopoly if another provider is ready and willing to serve the airport. Where’s Stelios and EasyBus when you need him?

      • ADS says:

        That would be funny – and just desserts for an outrageously priced transit

        • Londonsteve says:

          The reality is that DART would then seek to compete to avoid and would surely lower the price. The degree to which they would be concerned would depend on the % of travellers holding a through ticket where the DART fee can be bled into the ticket price without being noticed, but many savvy or frequent travellers would buy cheaper tickets to Luton Airport Parkway and pay directly for the budget transfer service from there. The likes of Uber and other rideshare apps also present a cheaper transfer option for a family. Let’s wait until it opens to judge, but it’ll be a real pity if they sting us with a £5 fee. In many other countries a transfer service between terminal and railway station is free and people wouldn’t have it any other way.

          • ADS says:

            I usually find that the only way to get discounted train fares from London to Luton is to ticket just to the Parkway station and then buy the bus fare on board. Through tickets to the airport never seem to be discounted.

            There are usually plenty of people buying tickets on the bus (often surprised that their train ticket doesn’t include the bus) – so I suspect there would be plenty of business for a rogue bus operator in future!

  • ADS says:

    In October your article included a quote:

    “Testing of the system is significantly advanced, but there remain several important tasks that we’re working to complete with our partners.

    These relate mostly to complexities and alignment of the system’s revenue and ticketing arrangements. This will also allow us more time to complete all the regulatory, operational and health and safety testing.”

    I guess the airport got so much grief about the delay being contractual, that they’ve now decided to blame it on testing.

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