Is it easier to get in and out of any particular airport in London? Since Heathrow is one of the busiest in the world, I would imagine there can be long lines for customs that might be avoided at the smaller airports. Conversely, I would imagine they have things down to a science in the larger, busier airports too.
Whenever possible I always use Gatwick over Heathrow. Its a smaller airport, easier to navigate, and just as easy to get to via express train. There are no customs checks at European airports; just immigration. Your longest lines will always be for the security checks.
Thank you for the quick reply! If you are flying into one European airport from another and making a connection, do you have to go back through security or do you stay in the terminal area past security like in the US?
It varies by country, at UK airports connecting passengers always have to go through a security check before they enter the terminal area and wait for their next flight. At Schipol in Amsterdam there is security check at each individual gate; the general airport security screening has been eliminated. Checked baggage is automatically transfered to your next flight. Immigration checks also depend on the country/airport. Some airports have them for transferring passenger some don't; and its entirely possible to enter Europe without any passport check depending on which airports you transfer at.
Actually, you always have to go through immigrations if you are coming from the US. Otherwise you'd have a big loophole for people to sneak into Europe.
If you fly direct, you go through immigrations at your destination. When you are connecting to a flight within Europe, you usually go through immigrations between the international/non-Schengen and EU/Schengen areas. At airports like Schipol, EU and non-Schengen/EU flights are in separate areas so you have to pass through an immigrations check in order to get from your international flight to your within Schengen flight.
There may be a few odd airports with loopholes, but I don't think they'd ever be intentional given security these days.
As to whether a larger airport would have things down to a science - that would make sense, but 'sense' isn't always a word one associates with airports. Newark and LAX are two of the biggest airports in the US, but LAX is a mess and security at Newark can be a nightmare. Avoiding Heathrow is always a good idea, both because of security lines and the chance of luggage going astray.
There are no seperate areas at Schipol Airport-its one big terminal. I have transfered countless time in Amsterdam without any immigaration check: Just last week I flew Newark to Schipol to St Petersburg Russia and the only time my passort was checked was in St Pete. Last Summer I flew to Berlin via Schipol without any check.
In regards to the airports, I think your confusing Newark with JFK. In NYC JFK is the bigger airport, Newark only has three terminals.
Perhaps the arrangement has been changed - a good thing since it was a nightmare before when the airport was split into Schengen and non-Schengen parts with long immigrations lines between the two - but my passport has certainly been stamped at Schipol.
The point is that you will go through immigrations - either when connecting or at your final destination. Whether former or latter, it depends on where from/to you are flying and the layout of the airport. If you are conneting via the UK or Ireland, you will go through immigrations there. If you fly directly to a Schengen country, you will probably go through immigrations at your final destination.
JFK is certainly larger than Newark, but Newark is also huge and it is fast overtaking JFK as far as hassle & confusion in check in and security. JFK never seems as bad because the flights are split between enough terminals that there's no one massively large security line, as you end up with at JFK.
If you connecting via a UK airport you only go through immigration if your final destination is in the UK. If your connecting to a destination outside the UK there is no immigration check; just a security screening.