Airlines accuse BAA of failing to cope with 'unsustainable' security measures

Air travellers were assured that the security measures causing delays and cancellations were "time-limited" as airlines and Britain's largest airport operator squabbled over who was to blame for the misery.

The Home Secretary, John Reid, admitted that the checks at airports were not "indefinitely sustainable" as thousands of travellers endured a fourth day of disruption. And late last night, the government announced the security threat at UK airports had been downgraded from "critical" to "severe".

The downgrade will mean passengers will be able to carry one item of hand luggage for most flights, but would still be banned from carrying liquid onto flights.

The decision is likely to be met with relief by both passengers and the travel industry. Throughout yesterday, Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, continued to be the worst affected by the tightened security with a third of flights cancelled and travellers facing long delays.

But amid frustration for some 12,000 travellers at London's airports yesterday, Mr Reid appeared to offer hope of a relaxation of the measures. He told BBC News 24: "We have always imagined that the present regime is time-limited. We know it is not indefinitely sustainable and we're trying to get a regime that is capable of protecting the public, but allows maximum movement for airlines, operators and passengers."

Airlines and airport operators accepted that tougher restrictions were necessary at a meeting with ministers on Friday but, following the chaotic weekend scenes at Heathrow and other airports, a fresh round of talks is expected today.

Officials were expected to work through the night to draw up new proposals to be put to airlines and airport operators. The British Airports Authority (BAA), which runs Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, said the emergency measures banning hand luggage and requiring the body search of all passengers were "not sustainable". The company said there would be a similar but "slightly reduced" level of cancellations today.

Amid open criticism of BAA by British Airways, the continuing chaos at airports brought calls from the Conservative Party for troops to be brought in to assist with the searches.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "BAA is clearly not set up for this level of scrutiny and it does seem to me there is an argument for some resources being put in there, and put in there quickly to try to rescue as many holidays as we possibly can."

The measures, introduced by the Government following the arrests relating to an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic aircraft, allow passengers to carry only essential items on to flights and require all travellers to be body-searched rather than a previous rate of one in every four.

In a sign that the tension between airlines, operating to tight schedules, and the airport operator has reached breaking point, Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, bluntly accused BAA of failing to cope. The airline said it had cancelled 30 per cent of its flights from Heathrow yesterday and all its domestic flights to and from Gatwick. Mr Walsh said: "The Heathrow baggage system cannot process all of the passengers' bags and where passengers have been able to check in their bags, the queues in the airport search area means that passengers are unable to get to the departure gate in time for their flight."

BAA blamed the measures themselves and said the level of cancellations and delays was the price to be paid for enforcing them. Tony Douglas, in charge of Heathrow for BAA, said: "If this is maintained, we are likely to continue to see extremely long queues and, regrettably, even more flights cancelled. I don't know how long it's likely to go on, but it's clearly a set of measures that are unprecedented and, by virtue of what they've come in to enforce, they're not sustainable measures."

Anger was also focused on the Department for Transport prior to its announcement last night. Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, which relies on fast turnaround times to maintain its profit margins, suggested the disruption was allowing terrorists to "achieve many of their objectives" by disrupting the economic life of Britain. The Irish airline said it had had to cancel 20 per cent of its flights out of Stansted yesterday to accomodate the new security measures. He called for a reduction in passenger searches.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance & Administrative Executive

£19000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Finance & Administrative Exec...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Administrator

£10000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency is looking ...

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen