Extra checks are here to stay, air passengers warned

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Flight passengers leaving the UK will never enjoy again the relatively lax security applied up until this week, ministers and airline chiefs agreed at an emergency meeting.

Longer waits, longer queues, stricter searches, and heavier restrictions on what can be taken aboard aircraft as hand luggage will be among the consequences of the terrorist threat.

The warning came after a second day of disruption for air travellers, although airlines were able to run far more services than on the previous day as airports and passengers learnt to cope with the news restrictions.

While Heathrow appeared no less chaotic than it had on the first day of the security alert, an endless stream of cancellations on the departures board had been replaced by delays.

Clutching see-through plastic bags, most travellers appeared sanguine, as they snaked their way - albeit slowly - to their flights. A Heathrow spokeswoman said there would be further delays today but it is hoped there will be a big improvement in punctuality.

The measures in force, which restrict passengers to carrying only essential items like money, passport, credit cards, glasses and medication in a see-through plastic card, will be relaxed when the Government feels that it can begin to relax the alert from its present level.

But there will be a permanent proscribed list of items that will never be allowed on an aircraft in a passenger's hand luggage again, the national aviation security committee resolved.

Other rules introduced for the current emergency could also become permanent, including the requirement that all passengers take off their shoes to have them x-rayed along with their luggage, and h items such as pushchairs and walking aids. Hand searches will be more common, and, for passengers to the USA, there is likely to be the additional burden of a second search when they reach the boarding gate. There will also be severe restrictions on the liquids passengers will be allowed to take with them.

The committee also considered introducing compulsory scanning byequipment capable of seeing everything packed in a suitcase, but they were warned that each scan would take 20 seconds.

The two-hour meeting was chaired by the Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander, with two Cabinet colleagues - the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and the Home Secretary John Reid - and a dozen officials from airlines and airports present. A Government source said the Cabinet ministers went into the meeting expecting opposition to tighter security from the airline operators but were relieved to find that they had independently decided that tougher measures were inevitable.

"They are now going to work out details of what technology we're going to use, what searches will take place, and which items are banned," said a spokesman. "It won't be as restrictive as it has been for the past two days but it will certainly be more restrictive than it has been up to now."

British Airways, which had to cancel more than 400 flights on Thursday, managed to reduce yesterday's cancellations to just over 100. EasyJet axed 112 flights yesterday but tried to limit cancellations to destinations reachable by train. Ryanair had to scrap more than 50 flights. Eurostar reported that it had taken an extra 5,500 bookings on its high-speed train service to European destinations.

Travel chaos

* HEATHROW

BA operated 70 per cent of its short-haul programme. A Heathrow airport spokeswoman said: "Things have been a lot better than on Thursday. There will be delays again today but we are expecting and hoping that there will be another big improvement in punctuality."

* GATWICK

Heavy delays, but passengers were arriving early carrying only essential hand-luggage. Forty-four flights were cancelled, mostly affecting British Airways and easyJet. All Virgin Atlantic flights were delayed. A BAA spokesman said: "It's very difficult to say what is going to happen over the next day or two because the situation is constantly changing, but there is a much better flow."

* STANSTED

Approximately 90 departing flights cancelled. Seventy per cent of departing flights left. Terminal ran well with only slight congestion.

* LUTON

EasyJet cancelled flights. Other airlines were not affected and delays were minimal. Passengers should check airline websites for further information.

* SOUTHAMPTON

Operating well, with delays averaging 30 minutes.

* BRISTOL

More than 98 per cent of passengers departed with only minimal delays. One cancellation. The airport said: "All flights for Saturday are scheduled as normal and no cancellations are expected."

* MANCHESTER

Delays to some services but otherwise bright situation. BA cancelled a flight to Madrid.

* SCOTLAND

Thirty-six services cancelled, 20 from

Edinburgh, 12 from Glasgow and four from Aberdeen. Waits of more than an hour for transatlantic services.

* EUROSTAR

Eurostar had a surge of bookings but a spokesman for Eurotunnel, the cross-Channel train link for motorists between Folkestone and Calais, expressed caution. "If people want to change their plans from a trip on an airline to taking the car it's a much bigger decision," he said. "We don't expect to get any change in bookings in the short term."

Comments