Normal airline service will begin again tomorrow

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American Air space was reopened at 4pm, but it could be some time before full transatlantic services resume.

American Air space was reopened at 4pm, but it could be some time before full transatlantic services resume.

Norman Y Mineta, the US Secretary of Transportation, said airports would reopen and flights restart on a case-by-case basis. "I must caution everyone that a system as diverse and complex as ours cannot be brought back up instantly," he said in a statement.

He warned of more-stringent levels of security and advised passengers to expect "some inconveniences". Hopes that transatlantic services would resume soon were boosted by the announcement by the Dutch carrier KLM that it would be operating two America-bound services from Amsterdam last night – one to Minneapolis and another to Memphis.

The ban on planes flying over central London is to be lifted from midnight on Saturday and London City Airport will open from 6.30am this morning using amended flight paths. After Saturday, managers expect to revert to normal routes which take aircraft within a few thousand feet of the Canary Wharf tower in Docklands. Seven British Airways planes diverted to Canada and one to Bermuda were back in Britain yesterday ready to resume services.

At Heathrow, the sort of scenes witnessed at airports every summer and described lazily as "holiday nightmares" were evident yesterday. The only difference was that for many thousands of passengers, the nightmares were real.

"I've been waiting to get home since Tuesday, but I'm also afraid of what I'll find," said one New Yorker. "I work real close to the World Trade Centre, so I'm not going to recognise the place when I get back. I know my family are okay, but there are a few friends I haven't been able to contact. And they work closer to it than I do."

Passengers bound for America and Canada were either prevented from travelling after Tuesday, diverted to Canadian airports or turned back to Britain. Since then, hundreds have been waiting to go home, and each day more have come. By yesterday, an estimated backlog of 2,000 people was waiting at Heathrow, most of whom had spent at least two days and a night at the west London airport with little apparent support.

"United Airlines told me I would have to wait for a flight until next Tuesday, but when I asked them to provide me with a hotel, they said no and gave me the address of the Salvation Army," said Chris Castle, who was bound for Los Angeles after a holiday in the UK. "We all accept there has been a terrible tragedy and we'll have to be patient, but a five-day wait and a soup kitchen?"

It wasn't just United that came in for criticism. One Virgin Atlantic passenger said he had "not been given so much as a drink of water", while Arlene Fahie, an American Airlines passenger bound for New York, said: "They put me in a nice hotel on the first night, but then said if I wanted to get back to the airport, I'd have to get myself a taxi and then they vanished – I haven't heard anything from them since.

Airline managers responded by saying that they were not obliged to offer free accommodation because of an act of terrorism. A spokesman for BAA, which runs Heathrow airport, said they had distributed 500 blankets together with food and drink. "We may have missed some people," he said.

In America, Britons whose holidays had come to an end remained in accommodation at the expense of tour operators. Those travelling independently, however, were left to finance the extra costs themselves.

The UK Federation of Tour Operators extended its compensation package offer to holidaymakers bound for the USA and Canada to midnight on Sunday. The offer for those holidaying in New York, Boston and Washington expires two days later. Companies are offering a full refund or a free transfer to a comparable holiday elsewhere.

At all British airports security staff continued to body search passengers before allowing them onto planes, and hand luggage was the subject of a secondary search before travellers could board. BAA also issued a list of items they have banned from aircraft. It includes knives of any sort, scissors, nail files, razor blades, and knitting needles.

Across Europe levels of procedures were tightened radically with extra checkpoints and a far more rigorous examination of baggage. Even before Tuesday's atrocities, the European Civil Aviation Conference had issued far stricter guidelines for all EU countries.

However the new, tighter security, which will bring the Continent up to relatively high British standards, is not due to be implemented until December 2002. Belgium is the only other European country to have installed procedures in which all baggage is screened.

It is expected that the USA will introduce the British model as a matter of urgency.