Military 'should have been called in to ease pressure on airports'

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The Independent Online

Criticism of Britain's main airport operator mounted yesterday in the wake of a week of chaos and cancelled flights.

Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), the body responsible for regulating international air traffic, accused BAA of failing to be properly prepared to cope with the fallout from a police operation against an alleged terror plot to bring down transatlantic airliners. He said the military should have been called in to help sort out the delays and deal with the backlog of passengers. "This is another wake-up call for airports," he said warning that other airports might also be ill-prepared. Stronger contingency planning and a more proactive response was required.

The criticism came as yet more flights were cancelled at Heathrow and Gatwick - the two airports worst hit after last week's terror raids. British Airways had to cancel 35 flights at Heathrow and 11 at Gatwick. A further 19 short-haul flights out of Heathrow today will be cancelled.

Meanwhile, the airline was attempting to reunite 5,000 passengers with their luggage which had been lost during the heightened security arrangements. It said it hoped to clear the backlog by the end of today.

The Home Secretary, John Reid, attempted to head-off persistent criticism of the industry's response to the alleged threat. "I am always willing to accept advice on security from everyone but I prefer to rely on our own security experts," he said.

BA said it hoped to back to normal on Friday - eight days after the Government raised the threat level to critical. More than 1,100 flights have been cancelled since the new anti-terror measures were introduced.

Meanwhile, new advice for air passengers on what to do if baggage gets lost in transit is now available at - the website of the UK European Consumer Centre (ECC), hosted by Citizens Advice.

Key advice for air travellers includes checking insurance policies and leaving valuables at home. Ruth Bamford, UK director of the consumer centre, said: "The Association of British Insurers say they expect their members to use their discretion in dealing with claims arising from the new security measures at British airports. But as this is an unprecedented situation it's difficult to predict exactly what to expect. The important thing is to make a claim as usual and get advice, but make sure you act quickly."