BAA is accused of 'paralysing' Stansted in wake of terror plot

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The Independent Online

BAA's response to the alleged terrorist plot aimed at downing transatlantic flights drew a fresh barrage of criticism yesterday from one of the airlines that uses its airports.

The no-frills carrier Ryanair accused the country's largest airports operator of "paralysing" Stansted by failing to provide sufficient staff to administer "nonsensical" extra security measures.

Meanwhile, British Airways continued to consider whether to seek recompense from BAA for the hundreds of flights that it has been forced to cancel from Heathrow.

As passengers braved a sixth day of delays and cancellations, Ryanair attacked BAA, now owned by the Spanish construction group Ferrovial, for compounding disruption.

The airline claimed on its website that by 4am, BAA Stansted had opened just four of the 14 security points at the airport and by 5am, an hour before the first wave of scheduled departures, only half of the security points were open.

Ryanair said: "As a result of BAA's chronic inability to staff their Stansted security facilities, combined with nonsensical hand baggage restrictions, security queues are now stretching dramatically through the Stansted terminal, paralysing the operation there."

The Dublin-based airline, led by its chief executive Michael O'Leary, called on the Government to bring in the Army or police to support BAA staff while heightened security checks remain in place.

In response, BAA said it had deployed extra staff. "There can be no short cuts in security and if this means that there is continued disruption we apologise to all our customers," a spokesman for the airports operator said.

Some eight of the 267 departures scheduled from Stansted yesterday were cancelled. Those that flew were delayed by up to an hour.

At Heathrow, BA cancelled 41 flights, 18 per cent of those scheduled. An improvement is expected today, with three long-haul and 32 European and domestic flights cancelled. BA hopes to restore a normal service by the end of the week.

There was no news of likely disruptions at Stansted today but BAA urged passengers to arrive three hours before scheduled departure.

Passengers can carry on one item of cabin luggage, equivalent in size to a small laptop bag or rucksack, and no larger than 45cm x 35cm x 16cm. Cosmetics and toiletries, liquids and sharp objects are prohibited. Passengers not travelling to the US can buy drinks after passing through airport security checks.

With the crisis tipped to cost airlines about £50m, shares in the sector have fallen sharply. Yesterday, BA shares edged 1p lower to 376p while Ryanair rallied 6 cents to €7.19.

But hotels around airports are reporting a jump in room occupancy and rates since Thursday, according to the consultant Deloitte.