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easyBus to Stansted vs. National Express

easyBus to Stansted vs. National Express

This week I flew to Amsterdam with easyJet, and back today from Eindhoven with Ryanair. When I was booking this little adventure I also planned ahead and booked the bus to and from Stansted airport.

Before I get into that, let me just comment that London Stansted should really be called “Cambridge Stansted airport”, because it is much closer to Cambridge.

Sticking to the same brand as my flight, I opted to use the easyBus for my trip to Stansted. At £8.90 per person that isn’t really a remarkably cheap option. However, it is still about half the cost of taking the Stansted Express, so my frugal Dutch heart still took a little leap.

Only afterwards I sadly discovered that the National Express would have taken me there at almost half that price. For merely £5 I could get back from Stansted to Stratford (or Liverpool street, both good options for me). At least I booked the Easybus only one way, so I booked the return on the National Express. I had not planned for it to be a straight up comparison in service, but it worked out that way only thanks to the tremendously nauseating experience I had on the easyBus.

Five things you should know about the Easybus

  1. Nothing about taking the easyBus was particularly easy. Why? See number 2-5.
  2. It is not a bus at all, at least not on the Old Street – London Stansted route. It is more like a van, a van that has been converted to fit more seats than a normal van would have. Anyone who is taller than 5.5′ will suffer numb legs from being folded in two to try to fit in the seat. This also means that there is no toilet on board the easyBus (leaving from Old Street).
  3. There is almost no room for luggage. Again owing to the fact it is not actually a bus, plan to take carry-on luggage only. If you paid to check in a bag with Easyjet, I am not sure how you will get it with you on the bus.
  4. It takes for-absolutely-ever to get out of the city core. Old Street isn’t exactly super central London (It’s not King’s Cross!) but it took over an hour to make it from Old Street to approximately Stratford. Perhaps I had particular bad luck with the traffic that day, or because it was a Wednesday before a long weekend. Either way, it was bad. It wouldn’t have been a big deal because I planned extra time for traffic so there was no chance of missing my flight, but the air flow inside the crammed van was so bad that I felt like I was going to suffocate. It felt a bit like one of those clown cars: the door opens and more people climb out than you expect would ever fit in the car.
  5. The stop is not marked. There is a map on the easyBus website that shows the approximate location relative to the Old Street roundabout, but if you are a bit paranoid like me and your ticket is only valid for one particular time it is a bit stressful trying to figure out where the bus stops. It stops a bit before a London bus stop on the North side of the road, and close to departure time surely some other people with suitcases will be congregating around there. It would have been nice to have a small sign indicate the stop though and not rely on fellow passengers to indicate the correct place to wait.

When I arrived at Stansted I was happy to be there and mostly relieved I had booked alternate transport for my return.

Stansted to Stratford with the National Express bus

The National Express bus boards from the bus terminal right outside Stansted airport (follow the signs and go downstairs one floor relative to arrivals). It is well signed and organized and there are large clean toilet facilities right by the bus terminal as well. Let me emphasize, the National Express bus is also a coach bus. This means it is large, has a good amount of leg room, and the airflow is adequate for the number of people who may be on board. It also has a toilet, unlike the easyBus. Just like with the easyBus there are no assigned seats, so queue a bit early to get the seat you want.

It also looks like there was a bathroom on the bus I took. As with any bus, it wouldn’t be my preferred toilet to use, but if you are stuck in London traffic and nature calls, it could be a good emergency solution. At least it is a proper bus, not a van.

It goes to various locations, also beyond London and for me there were really two good options: Liverpool Street station and Stratford. I chose the latter because I had a theory that with Stratford being further east, it would be a lot faster to get home than to trek further into the core of the city before jumping on the tube. Stratford is on the central line, so that is perfect. After my experience leaving from Old Street and taking an eternity to get to the Stratford area I think I made the right choice. The total journey time was well under an hour and the ride could not have been more comfortable. For just £5, I felt like I got a deal. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more. Comparing the price and level of service, the National Express is a great deal compared to the easyBus.

Keep in mind the low price applies when you pre-book, and prices can go up. It is likely quite a bit more if you buy your ticket on the day of travel. Given that the better experience was actually cheaper made my Dutch heart cry a little.

On a related note Ryanair allows for two cabin bags. easyJet only one. It is a shame Ryanair does not fly directly to Amsterdam. If they did, I would be taking them much more often. Eindhoven is not always practical for me unfortunately, but this time around it worked out well just because I was visiting some people who live in that area. If you rely on getting to Amsterdam from Eindhoven, you are really better off just flying there directly.

Have you ever taken either the easyBus or the National Express? What was your experience like?


Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".

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  1. Mario

    1 March

    There is an excellent Airport Express train to the city.

    • Yes, you are right! I didn’t take it at the time because I was booking a little late, and prices were really high. So I experimented with the bus. Next time I would definitely consider the train as well.

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