The queues are shorter, the waiting is longer

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The Independent Online

The American woman at check-in 32 in Terminal 4 was plainly having some difficulty coming to terms with the new security arrangements. She said: "You don't understand. I travel everywhere with my nail clippers. I must have them near me.''

The American woman at check-in 32 in Terminal 4 was plainly having some difficulty coming to terms with the new security arrangements. She said: "You don't understand. I travel everywhere with my nail clippers. I must have them near me.''

Only after British Airways staff patiently explained again that, yes, the manicure tool did constitute a sharp object banned from hand luggage, would the distressed tourist with a rapidly unravelling bouffant hairdo consign it from her wash pack to her suitcase.

Behind her, a handful of passengers waited patiently behind a queuing system of red velvet ropes, which one security worker admitted would have been packed with travellers and their baggage before 11 September. Heathrow, the self-styled world's busiest airport, was yesterday feeling the aftershock of New York and Washington in terms of diminished queues and a new global dilemma of what personal hygiene products can be kept about the person.

The airport was by lunchtime largely bereft of the frenetic Friday activity expected at an intercontinental transport hub usually so busy that it is in need of a fifth terminal. Against a background of airlines slashing routes and employees, and despite official exhortations for the public to get back in the air, Heathrow this week has been far from packed.

For Eileen Andrews, 42, a resident of Swindon waiting to fly to Cairns, the reason was simple. "There obviously wasn't enough security at airports in the first place. I admit I'm feeling a bit more nervous. They are supposed to have tightened things up but I wonder how much good it can do putting my tweezers in my suitcase rather than my handbag.''

Displaying a zeal that could be forgiven of those about to fly less than three weeks after the world's worst terrorist outrage, she added: "There should definitely be compulsory ID cards with fingerprints, DNA and personal histories. Anyone who doesn't want to carry one has got something to hide, haven't they?''

Others were happier to take a more philosophical view. Jacqueline Stone, a secretary from Leamington Spa, flying to Moscow to visit her daughter, a diplomat, said: "If anything I'm happier to be flying now. We have to check in an hour earlier and there are more checks. There is no doubt the world has changed. But at least as far as airports are concerned things are a bit more secure.''

Indeed, Heathrow was plastered with posters detailing the new list of items prohibited from aircraft cabins as a beefed-up presence of police and security guards kept watch. Departure and arrival lounges echoed to announcements warning that unattended luggage was liable to summary destruction. They were given in five languages.

There was also evidence that management was concerned that some passengers – unaware that they now live in a world where refusal to put out a cigarette can result in an aircraft being escorted back to an airport by two fighter jets – would try to board with unsuitable items of hand luggage.

Alongside posters listing banned items from catapults to cricket bats and knitting needles to toy guns were a number of hand-drawn pictorial representations. One showed an ammunition belt loaded with bullets, while another had a picture of what looked alarmingly similar to a sniper's rifle.

BAA, formerly the British Airport Authority, which runs Heathrow, Gatwick and Stan-sted as well as regional airports, insisted none the less that the position was one of business as usual at its biggest asset, which normally handles 170,000 passengers a day. A spokeswoman said: "There has been a slight downturn but we don't have any figures yet to indicate its size. By any standard, Heathrow is still a very busy airport.''

There was anecdotal evidence that the slowdown is already substantial for some. The Terminal 3 check-in area of American Airlines, which had two aircraft hijacked in the attacks, was almost deserted, as was that of Saudi Arabian Airlines. Trade was brisker for domestic and European flights, although bmi, formerly British Midland, said bookings were down by up to 20 per cent.

On the taxi rank outside Terminal 2, Rodney Goodman, 57, a black cab driver was in despair. He said: "It's been absolutely awful. You normally expect to have a fare within an hour. I've queued for nearly four hours each day this week."

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