Flight 223 delayed again after US intervenes

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The British Airways flight hit by repeated terrorist alerts was delayed yet again yesterday on the orders of the American authorities.

BA223, a 747 carrying 225 passengers, was held up on the tarmac at Heathrow airport for almost three-and-a-half hours before getting the all-clear to take off to Washington DC.

A BA spokesman said the US had asked for extra information about the flight for "security purposes" shortly before the scheduled take-off at 3.05pm. It finally left at 6.30pm and was due to arrive at Dulles Airport, at 2am (GMT) this morning.

The same flight was cancelled on Thursday and Friday on "security advice" from the Government. The US homeland security department said there had been "very specific and credible concerns" about the BA service. It was also delayed on Saturday when the US requested more details of passengers at the last moment.

A BA service to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Saturday and its return leg yesterday were also scrapped.

With America on its second highest level of alert, more transatlantic flights could be abandoned this week and extra delays are certain.

But the cancellations could fuel British government fears that the United States is being heavy-handed in the issuing of warnings and instructions to hold up flights.

The homeland security department was forced onto the defensive after it emerged three passengers targeted by American law enforcement agencies were a child, an elderly Chinese woman and a Welsh insurance agent.

Ministers are irritated over the lack of consultation on such moves and the demands for "sky marshals" on flights to the US by foreign carriers. Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "I fear that for many years to come we are going to be living in an age where there is going to be a heightened state of alert. Sometimes it will be quite severe."

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