Simon Calder: A stress-free shed will do just fine

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Big, in the travel world, is usually regarded as beautiful: the Grand Canyon attracts rather more visitors than the Cheddar Gorge, and tourists to St Peter's in Rome tend to be impressed by its sheer scale rather than its ecclesiastical status. But when we are faced with the mechanics of getting there, small reigns supreme.

Airports share much in common with prisons and hospitals: most people don't enjoy being inside them, and want to get out as quickly as possible.

Which? Holiday awarded points for speed from security checkpoint to gate. At Blackpool this journey takes seconds; at Heathrow and Gatwick, signs warn it can take up to 20 minutes. A generation ago, Luton was the object of ridicule, not least because of Cinzano ads featuring Lorraine Chase and Leonard Rossiter ("Were you wafted here from Paradise?" "Nah, mate. Luton airport.") But when Stelios Haji-Ioannou began the no-frills revolution in November 1995, with £29 flights to Glasgow, he also initiated the commoditisation of air travel.

Passengers no longer seek glamour in the "airport experience". We merely want it to be as stress-free as possible. If that means something looking like a carpet warehouse beside a former RAF airstrip (Doncaster, 3rd), we will rate that experience more highly than a trip through the £4.3bn temple to aviation known as Heathrow Terminal 5 (23rd).

Travellers, though, are nothing if not contrary. While celebrating less fashionable gateways to the world, we also demand plenty of choice in terms of destinations. Which perhaps is why more people fly through Heathrow in three days than through Blackpool in an entire year.

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