Terminal 5 is the great hope for revival

TALKING through the reasons for a surprise downturn in April in the number of passengers going through Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the executive from airports operator BAA hit his stride.

Well, of course, the timing of Easter is always crucial. Why go abroad when the weather at home was fantastic? Gordon Brown's pernicious, unwarranted and unheralded doubling of air fare taxes has taken its toll. Remember, airports can be an early economic indicator showing Brits are worrying about their disposable income with inflation and interest rates rising. And there have been the queues.

Oh yes, the queues. Distant memories of dreary waits in uninspiring surroundings.

Since last summer's terrorist alerts and the subsequent security clampdown, the hassle, the queues, the rows about the carry-on baggage, are all worse by a factor of several times. The excitement, even romance of going through a major airline terminal has long passed away.

BAA admits it has struggled to cope with the security rules enforced by a rattled Government.

Statistics recently revealed by the Evening Standard are evidence that travellers are voting with their feet.

While hundreds of thousands fewer passengers went through Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted last month, the number of flights at uncongested Luton rose 10%, are up 25% at City Airport favoured by City and Canary Wharf executives, and a staggering 40% higher at Farnborough, the airfield for the private-jet classes.

People want hassle-free travel, stressfree holidays. London's main airports are currently not providing for their biggest customer, British Airways, whose passengers are also keenly aware of the allegations of chicancery of price-fixing hanging over the flag carrier.

For BA, a new era with the opening of Heathrow's GBP4.5 billion Terminal 5 in 320 days' time cannot come quickly enough..