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Review: we try the new Luton Airport Express train and the DART airport link

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This is our review of the new Luton Airport Express rail service and the DART rail-air link.

The UK’s latest train service, the Luton Airport Express, officially launched on Monday.

This was also the day that the DART light rail shuttle between Luton Airport Parkway rail station and the airport terminal launched 24/7 operations.

You can learn more about Luton Airport Express on its website here.

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

Luton Airport Express is operated by East Midlands Railway, which runs trains from London St Pancras towards Sheffield on the line which passes Luton Airport Parkway station.

The new Luton Airport Express runs every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday and operates non-stop to the airport. The quickest journey time from St Pancras to the airport, including the DART transfer, is 32 minutes, of which around 22 minutes is the National Rail portion. I did it in 31 minutes.

There are trains on Sundays but they are less frequent. There are also other stopping trains to Luton Airport Parkway, both on Thameslink and East Midlands Railway.

Fares are advertised as ‘from £10’. In reality they appear to be as low as £7.60 one way for an adult single. This is excellent value given that the standalone price for the DART is £4.90 each way. Railcard discounts apply.

I headed up to Luton to take a look. Booked the day before, one way fares in Standard Class started at £8.70, including the DART fare, if you were willing to commit to a specific train. The snag is that few people can commit to a specific train, especially when returning to London from the airport.

To maximise my flexibility, I booked an Off-Peak Day Return for £27.90, although obviously anyone flying and staying overnight somewhere would not qualify for one of these. A full open return is nearer £40.

You must book your ticket to Luton Airport (LUA station code) and NOT Luton Airport Parkway if you want the DART trip to be included.

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

As an East Midlands Railway service, the trains operate from the upper platforms at St Pancras (1-4).

What is confusing is that, despite the Luton Airport Express branding, these are actually trains to elsewhere – in my case, Corby in Northamptonshire. They just happen to run non-stop to Luton Airport Parkway.

This means a) the trains are not adapted to carry excessive amounts of luggage, b) on your return trip, you have a risk of deing delayed if the train gets stuck between the Midlands and Luton and c) trains into London are likely to be busy when they reach Luton Airport Parkway.

Whilst the train had ‘Luton Airport Express’ branding on the outside, this was not mentioned in any of the on-train announcements.

I had an open ticket with no reserved seating although I had indicated the 10.15 train when I booked. At 10am I got a text message saying that ‘a limited number of unreserved seats are available in Coach C’.

I have no idea what algorithm triggered this. The train was, at most, 10% full. There were just three of us in my carriage and I was able to take this photo:

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

…. without getting a single person in shot.

Seating in Standard is 3×2. There are no tables. Wi-fi was free, did not require registration and worked well – albeit in a train with virtually no passengers.

You can’t knock the speed. I departed at 10.15 and pulled into Luton Airport Parkway on schedule at 10.37, 22 minutes later.

Connecting to DART at Luton Airport Parkway

This is, I have to say, a VERY slick process and far more effective than I anticipated.

There are escalators on the platform at Luton Airport Parkway, as well as lifts. Once on the upper level, you walk across the tracks and through the ticket gates.

You then have a very short walk to the DART ticket gateline:

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

As long as you bought a rail ticket to Luton Airport and not Luton Airport Parkway, the same ticket will let you through to the DART platform.

It is a very similar set up to the intra-terminal train at London Gatwick, with trains operating from both sides of a central island.

The trains are not the height of luxury but then we are talking about a four minute ride. That said, padded seats would not have gone amiss.

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

Looking out of the front:

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

The final part of the trip to the airport is in a tunnel and you need to exit via two steep escalators or a lift. Here is the airport station:

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART

The only downer is when you emerge from the DART and you realise that you still have to walk for a couple of minutes to reach the terminal. Whilst technically covered, the airport is on a hill and I had wind and rain coming at me from the side:

Review Luton Airport Express train and DART


This is a very slick operation, except for the need to walk from the DART station to the terminal.

The trip from St Pancras to the DART station in the airport took just 31 minutes. Apart from the walk from your Luton Airport Express carriage to the platform escalator at Luton Airport Parkway, the entire trip is covered (a good job, given the rain!).

The cost, of course, is an issue. At £27.90 for an off-peak open return, it is £16.90 more than a return tube trip from Central London to Heathrow. It’s just one of the extra costs that (for someone living in Central London) often ends up making a ‘low cost’ flight with Wizz Air or another Luton carrier into something that costs the same as a legacy carrier from Heathrow.

That said, the combination of the DART and the non-stop trains from St Pancras (you can also take Thameslink services from Central London to Luton Airport Parkway) does make it more likely that I will fly from Luton in the future – and that was the point of the building it.

Comments (76)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Tom says:

    It was confusing the train went to the Midlands hahaha, never left the M25 before? The trains always gone to Luton Parkway it’s a minor stop on a major train line

    • Rob says:

      No, that’s not how it is. The timetables have been rejigged so that a number of trains now go non-stop between LAP and StP at the same times each hour.

      Arguably it isn’t exactly normal to advertise a service as ‘Luton Airport Express’ and then run it to Corby with no mention at the station of it being a LAP service. At least Gatwick Express trains are treated as ‘Gatwick Express’ in terms of announcements.

      I promise you I’ve been taking trains on that line since well before you were born 🙂

      • Joe says:

        Rob, EMR have been running these Corby trains every 30 minutes non-stop from St Pancras to Luton Airport Parkway since May 2021.
        The only thing that has changed this week for those trains is the addition of the words Luton Airport Express to the signage.

  • Doomster says:

    Luton…..It really is an appalling place

  • vlcnc says:

    I’m not sure if this is the case anymore, but it used to be that advance tickets from airports used to allow for delayed landing i.e. it was valid to travel on the next available train even if you had missed your booked one. That’s definitely how it worked with Stansted Express…

  • Hreag says:

    What happens / how much do you pay if you just use contactless on a credit card door to door?

    • Londonsteve says:

      You can”t.

      • Rich says:

        You can. I did on Monday.

        It shows as £9 for Kentish Town to LAP, £4.90 for the DART.

      • Rich says:

        There are contactless readers on the EMR gateline at STP too, though you have to look for them. Don’t know if the pricing is any different from Thameslink platforms.

        • Londonsteve says:

          Yes, you can pay contactless to LAP station but then you’re subject to the public £4.90 price for the DART. Technically I’m sure you can also pay with a contactless card for the ticket on these, same as you can at any card terminal. The OP was asking about paying with Contactless ‘door-to-door’ which I interpreted to mean ‘to the door of Luton Airport’, which you can only do with a paper through-ticket. Competitively priced contactless rail fares are only available to LAP station.

  • Rob Collins says:

    Of course no-one would be travelling from Nottingham/Derby/Leicester/Sheffield to Luton Airport would they? The Luton Airport Express couldn’t possibly go North-South as well as South-North…

  • Dylan says:

    It seems that there is more walking to do than getting bus from Lap to front steps of airport. Not so easy for partial disabled people.

    • Londonsteve says:

      Not really. Previously you had to make your way to the forecourt in front of LAP station via a never ending series of escalators and then walk out of the building, exiting through the gateline. More recently the transfer bus stop at the terminal was located a fair distance from the main doors so overall I reckon there’s less walking involved than with the old bus, not to mention now there’s step-free access from getting off the train at LAP station. Frankly it was awkward for everyone, not just for those with limited mobility, as luggage had to be hauled onto the bus and lifted into the racks.

  • Richard Kitching says:

    When I checked the fares for the airport and parkway differed by exactly the walk up fare for the dart transit alone. Meaning for a family of four the extra for the 3 minute shuttle ride is around £40 return.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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