London Quality of life for Londoners, just as for residents of many a megalopolis such as New York or Hong Kong, is ironically judged on how quick and easy it is to escape. A getaway from London has never been more agonising. Its train terminuses, though central, are expensive and overcrowded at peak times. Roads are always congested and the countryside and open road are 50km out; up to a two-hour drive in heavy traffic. But nightmares truly start if you want a break abroad. Notwithstanding the relatively smooth hop via Eurostar to Brussels, Lille or Paris, Londoners must fly. It is 6.15am on Friday, before extra security measures following the car-bomb attacks, and the queue for the Wizz Air flight to Gdansk stretches past Starbucks and around the corner. There is just one woman processing 250 people. Well, there are two, but one has left her will to live on her pillow. Check-in, even with e-tickets and less hand luggage, has taken an hour. Still, that leaves a queue for passport control, security scans, toilets, provisions and boarding. Although this is Luton, just 50km north of London, perhaps less crowded and the easiest-to-reach airport from central London, a quick weekend break is still a misnomer. Times to reach Gdansk, just one hour and 40 minutes away by air, still takes seven to eight hours. That includes waking at an ungodly 5am and a GBP30 (HK$470) cab ride, to security clearance and check-in and then 10 minutes to the hotel. Still, at least this is not Heathrow, where the pain of extra security checks following constant terror alerts has been exacerbated by outdated facilities and constant crowds. If there are bad delays - terror alerts, labour disputes or bad weather - you often wait outside. Last week, anger focused on the British Airport Authority (BAA), the private firm running the three busiest London airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Critics slammed it for effectively turning the airports into 'shopping malls filtering passengers' rather than terminuses efficiently ferrying people from point A to point B. Airlines have called for the firm to be broken up, attacking its bad customer service and poorly maintained facilities. Perhaps the busiest airport in the world - 67 million passengers passed through Heathrow last year - it just cannot cope, being built 50 years ago, before terrorism, with 45 million in mind. Heathrow is cramped, its heating and air conditioning primitive, its design near Neanderthal. Its upkeep seems worse, with uncleaned toilets and blown light bulbs adding to the fug. Much of the time it seems like a refugee centre - people lying on the floor, no space to sit out delays and cancellations. Then there is the scarcity of security lanes and long, long queues. BAA accepts the poor customer service critique, but says state-of-the-art Terminal 5 - opening soon - will redress the problem, processing 30 million passengers a year. It said it had hired 500 extra security staff, though still not enough to achieve the target of a 10-minute queue. It will spend #9 billion, renovating terminals at Heathrow and expanding Stansted. Tony Douglas, BAA chief at Heathrow airport, said: 'By 2012, we aim to have either rebuilt or redeveloped all our ageing terminals and returned Heathrow to its rightful status as ... a fitting gateway to London.' Luton, part-owned by the local council, is a dream destination compared with Heathrow. Smaller, but more spacious, and quicker. Yet even here, on our return, the queues at passport check-in snaked down the corridors. At 4.30pm on Sunday, two staff quickly became one. It took an hour, the same time as a train to the seaside at Brighton.