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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Inspection Inventory Clerk

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a fast growing in...

Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV & HGV Mechanics

£29000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: PSV/PCV Mechanics & HGV mechani...

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee