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The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN), Frankfurt (FRA, HHN), Paris (CDG, ORY), Madrid (MAD), and Amsterdam (AMS) which in turn have connections to practically everywhere in Europe. However, nearly every European city has direct long-distance flights at least to some destinations elsewhere, and other smaller airports can make sense for specific connections: for example, Vienna (VIE) has a very good network of flights to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, while Helsinki (HEL) is the geographically closest place to transfer if coming in from East Asia. 

London

Due to London’s huge global city status it is the most served destination in the world when it comes to flights.

London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of five airports. Travelling between the city and the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. However, if transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. In addition to London’s five official airports (of which only two are located within Greater London), there are a number of other regional UK airports conveniently accessible from London. Since they offer a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports can be cheaper (or even faster, depending on where in London your destination is).

For transfers directly between London’s airports, the fastest way (short of a taxi) is the direct inter-airport bus service by National Express. Buses between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton run at least hourly, with Heathrow-Gatwick services taking 65 min (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90 min (£20.50) (note that services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it’s essential to allow leeway, as London’s expressways, especially the orbital M25 and the M1 motorway, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some buses have toilets on board.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt is the heart of central Germany and as such, it is the national transportation hub. It has excellent connections by rail, road and air. Reaching and leaving Frankfurt is easy.

Frankfurt Airport (IATA: FRA) is among the busiest in Europe — third in passenger traffic after London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport — and the ninth busiest airport in the world. Frankfurt is the banking center of Germany and hosts numerous international trade fairs. Therefore all major airlines and all airline alliances fly frequently to Frankfurt and connects it to every continent and major city in the world. The German flagcarrier Lufthansa is the main airline in Frankfurt and offers the best connections.

The airport has two terminals (A third is scheduled to be opened in 2015). Terminal 1 is the home of Lufthansa and the Star Alliance airlines. Terminal 2 is for all other airlines. Terminal 1 is separated into Concourses A (inside Schengen passport control), Z (the level on top of A, outside passport control), B and C; Terminal 2 is separated into Concourses D and E. Terminal 1 is a multi-level maze with poor signage & changing entrances due to ongoing construction work and insufficient capacity. Lufthansa tries to ease the confusion, therefore Business Class passengers (+ Gold & Silver Star Alliance Card Holders) have a designated check in area in Terminal 1 A. First class passengers of Lufthansa & Swiss Int’l Airlines (+ LH HON Circle card holders) are allowed to check-in in the separate First Class terminal [7] on the right side of Terminal 1, which has its own driveway. All Star Alliance economy class travelers and other Star Alliance partners are checked in in Terminal 1B & 1C. The terminals are connected by the Sky Train (both landside and airside).

The departure gates have some of the most innovative seating around, with bench seats facing many directions and cafe-style tables and chairs for those who wish to whip out their laptops (sans coffee, alas). Passengers requiring special assistance should be advised that they might have to descend several flights of stairs to get to a bus that takes them to the plane, rather than disability-friendly ramps, so talk to the gate agent early if stairs are a problem.

Terminal 1 has public showers for €6 (includes towel, foot mat, shower gel, and hair dryer). One location is in the B Departures area, in the Shopping Boulevard, across from “TUMI”. The other is in the secure area of B Concourse (good for transit passengers), Level 2, near gate B 30 and the duty free shopping. There is luggage storage in both terminals for €5 per bag per day.

Wireless internet access is available. 30 minutes is “free”, but requires receiving an SMS (text message), which isn’t free if you have to pay to receive an SMS or can’t receive an SMS in Germany. More time is available by paying (e.g., €5 for 1 hour, €10 for a significantly longer period).

The airport has a long visitor terrace on top of terminal 2 (adults €4). It also offers 45-minute airside bus tours (adults €6, hourly from 11 (holidays) or 1-4PM, ticket booth is at the bridge between terminal 1 and “Frankfurt Airport Centre”, follow signs and information for Flughafen Erlebnisfahrten (“Airport Experience Tour”).

 

Amsterdam

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (IATA: AMS) (ICAO: EHAM) is one of the busiest airports in the world, situated 15 km south-west of the city.

The national carrier for the Netherlands is KLM, now merged with Air France. With partner Delta Air Lines they offer worldwide connections. The US, Asia and Europe are particularly well served at Schiphol. British Airways offer up to 15 flights per day to 3 London Airports; Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.

Transavia, Jet2.com, Easyjet, and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe.

When leaving Amsterdam, give yourself enough time to get to your plane and through security (especially when flying to the United States)! Schiphol is a large airport — be there at least 2 hrs in advance. If you have time to kill, drop into the Rijksmuseum’s Schiphol branch, between E and F Pier (non-Schengen area airside), which is free and open 07:00-20:00 daily.

Coin-operated storage lockers are located along the main hallway through the transit/departure area, across from the start of the E wing. From €6 per 24 hr, maximum one week.

There are plenty of fast-food chains and restaurants at the airport. It even has the busiest Burger King in the world with 1.3 million visitors a year. It has never closed since its opening in 1993. McDonald’s has three branches in and around the airport.

Paris

Paris is served by three international airports – for more information, including arrival/departure times, check the official sites.


Charles de Gaulle International Airport

ICAO: LFPG, IATA: CDG. The major hub airport to the north-east of the city. It’s notoriously confusing, so allow plenty of time for transfers. There are three terminals: Terminal 1, Terminal 2 (which is huge and subdivided into 2A through 2G), and Terminal 3 (formerly T9). The newest exception is terminal 2G which is a separate building and is only reachable via navette/bus in 10-15 min (bus leaves every 20 min) so allow extra time. The free CDGVAL shuttle train connects the terminals together. Everything at this airport is very expensive, especially food. If you’re traveling from Terminal 1 it’s also worth noting that the food court is located at the CDGVAL floor, before the security check. There are hardly any benches around. There are no public shower facilities in the airport. Air France lounges have such facilities, and the departure lounges have showers. Lounge access is included for Air France business and first class travelers. The members of the Air France and cooperating frequent flyer programs may gain access with sufficient status. There is a possibility that some lounges may grant access to travelers on their flights for a fee. If you consider paying for access to the lounge, inquire when checking in for your departure. If you must have a shower and your frequent flyer status (and charm) are insufficient to gain entry to a lounge, the airport hotels generally have rooms available (in Sep 2009, the Sheraton in Terminal 2 at the train station charged €155). When you arrive at CDG, you should note what terminal you arrived at (2A, 2D, etc.), because when you come back to the airport to depart at the end of your trip, the RER subway train makes two stops at CDG to cover the three terminals, but there are few indications of which airlines are at which terminals. Have a close look at your air ticket to figure out which terminal you are departing from. Air France and associates leave from Terminal 2. The RER B has the airlines serviced by each terminal on a not so obvious chart posted by the door of the train.

Orly International Airport

(ICAO: LFPO, IATA: ORY. This airport is southwest of the city, and served by a southern branch of the RER-B line that heads in the direction of Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse (not Robinson). This older international airport is used mainly by Air France for domestic departures, and international departures by European carriers. Orly is roughly 40 min from Paris via the OrlyBus, which departs from Métro Denfert-Rochereau (ligne 6); the price is €7. There are buses every 10 minutes from the Orly Sud (Platform 4) and it stops at Orly Ouest on its way to the city. Tickets can be bought at a counter near the baggage claim area or directly at the counter in Platform 4. The tickets need to be validated once on the bus. Another option is bus 285 that takes you to the Métro Villejuif – Louis Aragon(Line 7) in 15 min, but it stops on the way and is designed for commuters and not for travellers. Bus 285 costs €1.90 and runs every 10 min, stopping at airport level -1.

The Orlyval light rail connects the two terminals to each other and to the RER B line at Antony. It runs every 4-7 min and cost €10.75 for transfer to Paris, including connections to central area metro stations. The RER B from Antony runs through Paris to Aéroport Charles de Gaulle.

Beauvais (Aéroport de Beauvais Tillé)

ICAO: LFOB, IATA: BVA. This airport, a distance north of the city, is a smaller regional airport that is used by some low-cost carriers such as Ryanair (list flights [10]) and WizzAir. Like many small airports there is a cartel in operation in the form of the airport operated shuttle service connecting with the Métro at Porte Maillot station. Buses run even during the small hours of the morning (6AM). Buses leave 20 min after each flight arrives, and a few hours before each flight departs. Exact times can be found on the Beauvais Airport website. The journey will take about an hour in good traffic conditions, and costs €15 each way, there is no reduced price for children over the age of 2 years. Unless you hire a car this is the most realistic way to head toward Paris, hence why the airport charge the price they do.

 

Madrid

Madrid Barajas International Airport(IATA: MAD), +34 902 404 704, is located 13km from the city center. It is one of the largest airports in Europe and is serviced by many airlines, as well as being the homebase for Iberia Airlines. The airport has 4 terminals, including Terminal 4, a new terminal that has won architectural awards, and might be worth the trip to have a look even if you are not flying.

By far the most convenient way of reaching downtown is a 24-hours express bus service that passes all terminals and then goes direct to O’Donell, Cibeles (20 minutes walk or quick metro ride to Puerta del Sol) and Atocha (main train station, not serviced between 11:30 PM and 6 AM). 5 euros. Departures every 12(day)-35(late night) minutes. Travel time Terminal 4 (end of line) – Cibeles 30-40 minutes.

The airport is also connected to the city by Cercanias commuter train (line C-1, from 05:30 to 23:30, €2.15) and Metro (line 8 pink, from 06:30 to 01:30, to/from the airport €5.00). From Terminal 4 take the commuter train (look for Renfe Cercanias) to “Nuevos Ministerios” and then transfer to line C-3 or C-4 southbound on platform 8; Sol will be the first stop. Alternatively, you can also take the Metro to Nuevos Ministerios from any terminal but it will probably take a bit longer.

Public bus 200 operates between the airport and Avenida de América bus station in Madrid. It is only 2.00€ and you can use your weekly ticket or 10-trips ticket. Public night bus N4 goes from Plaza Cibeles to Barajas district, 400m walk from the terminal through a passageway over the highway. Night Shuttle [4] operates a night bus between the airport and city center for €9.90 per person. Taxis from the airport to the city center cost ~€32.

Two smaller airports, Torrejón and Cuatro Vientos, also serve the city, however, there are no commercial flights coming in or out of these two airports.

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