An airport was opened on the site on 16 July 1938 by the Secretary of State for Air, Kingsley Wood. During World War II, it was a base for Royal Air Force fighters. Following World War II, the land was returned to the local council which continued activity at the airport as a commercial operation. Percival Aircraft had its factory at the airport until the early 1960s. From the mid-1960s, executive aircraft have been based at the airport, initially operated by McAlpine Aviation. These activities have grown and several executive jet operators and maintenance companies are based there. It became the operating base for charter airlines such as Autair (which went on to become Court Line), Euravia (now TUI Airways, following Euravia's change of name to Britannia Airways and subsequent merger with First Choice Airways and TUI rebrand) and Dan-Air. In 1972, Luton Airport was the most profitable airport in the country. It suffered a severe setback in August 1974 when major package holidayoperator Clarksons and its in-house airline Court Line (which also operated coach links) were liquidated.
In 2018, over 16.5 million passengers passed through the airport, a record total for Luton making it the fifth busiest airportin the UK. It is the fourth-largest airport serving the London area after Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and is one of London's six international airports along with London City and Southend. The airport serves as a base for EasyJet, TUI Airways, Ryanair and Wizz Air and previously served as a base for Monarch Airlines until it ceased operations in October 2017. The vast majority of the routes served are within Europe, although there are some charter and scheduled routes to destinations in Northern Africa and Asia.