Airport Chaos: Tempers rise at check-in as travellers are left stranded

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The Independent Online

For the weary travellers crammed into the packed terminals at Heathrow, the mood was one of frustration rather than fear of what could have been.

Thousands were stranded at Heathrow as news of the alleged terror plot spread and hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed. Passengers arriving for flights swamped check-in zones as airport staff enforced stringent check-in procedures.

Terminal 1 was a sea of bodies that stretched from one end of the check-in zone to the other. Similar scenes were unfolding in Terminal 3, from where most transatlantic flights were due to depart, and outside Terminal 4. While hopes were high among some passengers that flights would resume, the deserted check-in desks in Terminal 1 told another story.

By 9.30am, all British Airways short-haul flights had been cancelled, with many other airlinesfollowing suit. For hours, little information was given as to which flights would be cancelled. Why were flights to Tel Aviv and San Francisco departing when so many others were cancelled, they asked.

Helene Jenzan, 35, looked up from where she was sitting on the pavement and gazed at the policeman patrolling nearby. Cradling a nine-month-old baby in her arms and comforting her three-year-old child, she shook her head. "I am so tired," she said. "But our flight has been cancelled and there is nothing we can do. I am so exhausted I cannot think. What can I do with my children?"

Abolfazi Maneshi, travelling from Canada to Tehran with his son Mustafa, said: "It is ridiculous. It is nonsense. I can't carry on my laptop and my wife has to test the baby's milk."

A fellow passenger, Kami, 48, a London-based decorator, blamed the terrorists but said he hoped there would be no backlash against Muslims. "It is not Islamic people doing this. Allah is merciful and this is not merciful."

The message from airlines was clear: "If it's not urgent, go home." But that, for many people, was not an option.

"They're telling me to go home. I'm telling them that I am trying to go home - that is why I am here," said Tom O'Donnell, an American pharmacist due to fly back to Boston.

"I am in favour of every measure taken when it comes to saving lives, but you need to be told straight in a situation like this."

At Heathrow 309 flights were cancelled while at Gatwick 135 departures were cancelled and 800 delayed. At Stansted, 90 flights had been cancelled by 2pm, most of them Ryanair flights. EasyJet and Air Berlin also cancelled flights. Many stayed into the evening hoping to catch flights despite warnings from airport officials.

BA said that 75 per cent of its longhaul flights and 60 per cent of its shorthaul flights would operate from Heathrow today.

Yesterday at the Liverpool John Lennon Airport armed police patrolled as queues built up at check-in desks in response to the new procedures. Ceri and Cath Evans, were due to join their grandparents for a 12-day break. Mrs Evans said: "We thought that all we'd have to do was put our personal belongings in a clear bag. But we got here and discovered our flight had been cancelled."

At Belfast International, all easyJet flights to Gatwick, Stansted and Luton were cancelled as were bmi flights to Manchester, Nottingham East Midlands and Cardiff.