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Getting to Luton Airport by train

What is the Luton Airport Express? Is it worth it? We're here to help.
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Recently, you’ll find that there’s been a couple of changes when it comes to getting to Luton Airport by train. A shiny new automated train has been built, for one! This means that you don’t need to get a bus from Luton Airport Parkway to the terminal anymore.

What’s more, you’ll now find trains called ‘Luton Airport Express’. But what’s the travel experience like and is the ‘express’ train worth the hype? It just so happened that I had a flight from Luton Airport, so I gave it a try to see what it was all about.

What are the options for getting to Luton Airport by train?

If you want to get to Luton Airport by train, then you’ll be using Luton Airport Parkway station. From the north, trains come from Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and Bedford. From the south, you can arrive on trains from St Albans, London, Gatwick Airport and Brighton. Put simply, it’s well-connected.

East Midlands Railway runs the trains from Corby into London St Pancras, while Thameslink handles the rest, including all trains across London towards Gatwick and Brighton.

I’m going to focus on getting there from London, as this is where you have a choice. You can either take the ‘Luton Airport Express’ or a Thameslink service. The Luton Airport ‘DART’ then connects you with the terminal. Let’s take a look at both operators and the new DART service.

East Midlands Railway (Luton Airport Express)

To be honest, I was a bit baffled when East Midlands Railway suddenly came out with the Luton Airport Express brand. While it is true that these services are non-stop from St Pancras to Luton Airport Parkway, it didn’t go hand-in-hand with a service improvement, refurbished trains or anything else. So, was it just branding for the sake of branding?

All that aside, two trains per hour run on this route for most of the day. During the bulk of the day, they take just over 20 minutes to complete the trip from London, but this increases to 30 in the early morning and late evening. This is because, at these times, both the ‘fast’ trains and ‘slow’ Thameslink trains have to use the same set of tracks. Still, if you want to get from London St Pancras to Luton Airport by train, they’re the speediest option.

The cost

Unlike many other routes where you have competing companies, there isn’t a price difference if you buy a ticket on the day. An Anytime Return (valid to return within a month) is £44.80 without any Railcards, reduced to £40.50 (for the Off-Peak Return) if you’re travelling after 09:30.

If you’re travelling out on a Saturday and returning on a Sunday/Bank Holiday, then it’s cheaper to buy a Super Off-Peak Single each way, as they’re £17.30 each before any Railcard discounts, bringing the total to £34.60.

If you’re happy to commit to a specific train, East Midlands Railway also offer Advance tickets to/from the Airport which start at £7.60 one way. The obvious issue is that if you suffer a flight delay, would your ticket still be valid? The Luton Airport website FAQs offer a rather vague but sort-of reassuring answer:

If your flight is delayed, please speak to a member of our team at the train station and they’ll be able to advise you. If you have an advance train ticket, you will need proof of the delay to be able to access the next Luton Airport Express service. Luton Airport Website

It’s not the most explicit-sounding explanation I’ve ever heard, though you’d be good to go, by the sounds of it. It’s likely worth taking a screenshot of your airline’s app or of the arrivals board when you get there.

The train itself

The Luton Airport Express (or ‘EMR Connect’ as it’s also branded) is served entirely by Class 360 ‘Desiro‘ trains. They entered service in 2003 in East Anglia and moved over to East Midlands Railway in 2021.

While they’re two decades old, they’re still fairly modern-looking trains. The East Midlands Railway livery looks smart, too:

luton airport express train at luton airport parkway

All of the Class 360s have four carriages. You’ll usually find them paired up as eight-coach trains. I was taking the 18:47 from St Pancras to Corby today, which indeed had eight whole carriages!

What’s up with the branding?

I feel like it’s important to explain what’s up with the whole ‘Luton Airport Express’ brand. It gets especially confusing considering that these trains are already branded as ‘Connect’, so you end up with two brands at once.

You certainly can’t miss it, for one. When I arrived at St Pancras, I noticed that the departure screen on the platform was very keen to tell me that this was the way to Luton Airport by train:

departure screen showing luton airport express branding at st pancras

There we have it again, though. Two different brands at once! It hardly makes things simpler to tell a Bedford, Wellingborough, Kettering or Corby passenger ‘get the Luton Airport Express’.

So what brought this about? The Luton Airport Express brand was launched when the ‘DART’ was opened, which is the new automated train between the railway station and the Airport terminal.

The DART has speeded trips up a little, that’s for sure. But that’s it. The trains themselves haven’t changed. So, what’s up with the branding? It’s just a brand. Your journey isn’t somehow improved by it!

I’d argue that it’s more confusing now. The automated announcements on the train now gleefully state: “This is an EMR Connect service to Corby. This is a Luton Airport Express service to Luton Airport Parkway..”.

Storing your luggage

You’d assume that an Airport express service would at least try to have extra luggage racks. Unfortunately, EMR doesn’t seem to think that this is an essential part of getting to Luton Airport by train:

image shows overhead luggage racks on class 360 train

These small overhead racks are all that I could find. After all, in a previous life, these trains were taking commuters from London to Clacton and Ipswich. EMR hasn’t touched them on the inside since, despite previous promises to do so. Their website just alludes to ‘hoping’ to do this ‘soon’.

The seat experience

All seats (except the old First Class compartments at the far ends of the train) are in a 3+2 layout like this:

interior of a class 360 train showing 3+2  seating

It isn’t a great layout for an ‘Airport Express’, nor is it really that great for services to Corby. There are no power sockets at any seat on these trains, either.

If you go to the far ends of each unit (so coaches 1, 4, 5 and 8) behind the driver’s cab, you’ll find an old First Class compartment. It’s the same kind of seat but with a small table and armrests in a 2+2 layout. EMR Connect doesn’t have First Class, so you can sit here with any ticket.

The seat comfort was fine, but the layout wasn’t suited to being filled with people and their luggage.

Onboard service

All EMR Connect/Luton Airport Express trains have a guard who should come through and check tickets and provide customer service.

Our guard did announce herself, but I never saw her at any point on the journey. I suppose in the space or 20 or so minutes, you wouldn’t expect it either.

There isn’t a trolley service or anything like that. Just pick something up to eat at St Pancras!

Final thoughts

So, what is the Luton Airport Express? It isn’t anything new or revolutionary. It’s just another name for the ‘Connect’ service to Corby. EMR haven’t invested anything in the trains themselves for this and it was purely a branding exercise, it seems.

I’m sure that users of the service would prefer a properly refurbished train rather than some stickers and a confusing two-brands-in-one mess.

Is it a bad train? Not necessarily. The Siemens Desiro is a well-built train, but these are tired-looking inside. It’s the fastest way to Luton Airport by train, but the trains need some love. The main saving grace is that there isn’t any extra charge for using these trains compared to Thameslink.


Thameslink is your other option for getting to Luton Airport by train. They leave from a different set of platforms under St Pancras station, but you can catch them from Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge, too. They connect to Gatwick Airport too, and I covered them in my comparison of the best train to Gatwick Airport.

They’re a fair bit more frequent, with the following trains on offer:

  • Four semi-fast trains per hour, calling at West Hampstead Thameslink, St Albans and Harpenden (taking 30-35 mins)
  • Two slow trains per hour, calling at West Hampstead Thameslink, Brent Cross West, Mill Hill Broadway, then all stations (taking 40-45 mins).

Thameslink is the best way to Luton Airport by train if you want to just be able to turn up and go. In most cases, you’ll want to wait for a fast one, but you have the option of a slower one if it turns up and you just want to sit down!

The cost

There’s no difference compared to the Luton Airport Express if you want a ‘flexible’ ticket.

An Anytime Return (valid to return within a month) is £44 without any Railcards, reduced to £40.50 (Off-Peak Return) if you’re travelling after 09:30.

If you’re travelling out on a Saturday and returning on a Sunday/Bank Holiday, then it’s cheaper to buy a Super Off-Peak Single each way, as they’re £17.30 each before any Railcard discounts, bringing the total to £34.60.

There aren’t any ‘Advance’ tickets, so you can’t save any money here by committing to a specific train.

The train itself

All Thameslink trains are Class 700 ‘Desiro City‘ units. They have either eight or 12 coaches, and were gradually introduced to the network from 2016 onwards:

thameslink class 700 train

The seat experience

The seats in Standard Class are widely known as ‘ironing boards’. They’re firm, they’re narrow and they’re not exactly renowned for comfort!

interior of a thameslink train to luton airport in standard class

Still, I find them to be okay for a short trip. You won’t find any plug sockets in Standard Class, but some seats have a table attached. For most journeys of this length, that’d be fine. But if you want something a little better at no extra cost, don’t worry. There is somewhere else you can sit…

interior of first class on a thameslink train to luton airport

That looks a little better, doesn’t it? First Class at the very back of every train is always declassified. This means that you can use it with a Standard Class ticket.

If your train terminates at Luton, the front first-class area is likely declassified, too. Just check the screens on the platform, as they’ll tell you.

In this part of the train, you’ll find power sockets, tables and a bigger seat. This beats anything the Luton Airport Express has to offer, and it’s probably the best place to be if you’re heading to Luton Airport by train.

Storing your luggage

As well as the overhead racks that you can see in the pictures above, there are a few small luggage stacks scattered around the train.

They’ll be able to take a standard checked suitcase but might struggle with anything particularly massive. Still, that’s better than Luton Airport Express which simply doesn’t offer any.

The 2+2 seating layout also means that it’s much easier to wheel your luggage down the train without bashing into other seats or people.

Onboard service

Put simply, there isn’t any! You’ll find regular and informative announcements, but no staff other than the driver.

Final thoughts

Thameslink is a solid way to get to Luton Airport by train. It’s frequent, has tons of space and even a ‘secret’ First Class so you can upgrade yourself for free.

It’s only a little slower than the Luton Airport Express, so there’s no reason to snub it in favour of getting the non-stop train.

What is the DART?

Now that we’ve covered the trains, let’s take a look at the DART. After all, the planes don’t leave from Luton Airport Parkway!

I found that it was just a short walk from the railway station to the DART platforms. You head for the exit, then take a swift right turn to another set of ticket gates. If you’ve bought a ticket to Luton Airport, just pop your ticket in the gate or scan it again.

The platforms are modern and have flight information on them too:

luton airport parkway dart station showing flight info boards

Trains leave every four minutes at the busiest times (less frequent depending on the time of day) and they’re fully automated. The journey is around five minutes, so it doesn’t take long at all. They look the part as well:

luton airport dart train at luton airport

Once you get to the other end, you’ll need to walk upstairs and go straight ahead to the terminal. Annoyingly, if you want the nearby hotels (like I did!) you need to do a long loop around the terminal. There’s no shortcut to the main road.

The DART costs £4.90 and there aren’t any Railcard discounts on the fare from London. When you buy a ticket from London or elsewhere, £4.90 is added to the fare you’d pay to/from Luton Airport Parkway. There’s no discount for buying a through ticket!

Is it a good service? Yes. It’s the most convenient way to Luton Airport by train. Is it expensive? Also yes.

What’s the best way to get to Luton Airport by train?

To be honest, as there’s no cost difference, you might as well go for whatever is leaving first. After all, it’s a short journey.

However, if you want more choice, more luggage racks and the chance to sit in First Class for no extra cost, then I’d pick Thameslink.

The Luton Airport Express is faster, but the fact that EMR has jumped the gun with all of the pomp and branding before attempting to improve the trains themselves makes it rather frustrating. If it’s the first train to leave St Pancras, go for it, but don’t expect anything special.

Ready to book your train to Luton Airport? You can do it with Railsmartr. We won’t charge you any booking fees, and won’t charge you any extra fees if you need to refund or change your ticket.

All fares and other prices, as well as times of trains, were issued on this page in good faith and were correct at the time of publication (12/12/23). The author travelled on 27/04/23. Railsmartr is not responsible for any loss, inconvenience or otherwise, as a result of the information provided.

Author Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I've been working for Railsmartr since 2022. I make sure that everything we communicate with customers is top-notch and write exciting and informative content for the website. When I'm not at work, you'll still find me on the rails - though often in the far corners of Europe!