Airlines Cancel London Flights

August 10, 2006

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Airlines canceled hundreds of flights in and out of London on Thursday after a foiled bomb threat sparked a security alert, throwing UK airports into chaos.

Airlines banned hand luggage on flights out of the United Kingdom and warned of severe delays at London airports after British police said they had foiled a plot to blow up aircraft mid-flight between Britain and the United States.

Carriers on both sides of the Atlantic suspended flights, waiving penalties for ticket changes and extra checked baggage. The move stranded thousands of passengers in the peak summer travel season.

British Airways and easyJet said they were canceling some short-haul flights in and out of the capital, while planes bound from Europe into Heathrow Airport were temporarily grounded.

Passengers were told to stay away from the airport because of severe delays caused by heightened security checks. Airlines reported heavy traffic congestion on roads into Heathrow.

BA canceled all domestic and European flights in and out of Heathrow and some at Gatwick Airport on Thursday but said it would try to operate as many long-haul flights as possible.

EasyJet canceled about 300 flights in and out of Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports. Ryanair reported flight delays of up to six hours.

European carriers including Lufthansa, Air France KLM, Spain's Iberia, Greece's Olympic Airlines and Alitalia said all flights scheduled for Heathrow had been temporarily grounded.

Heathrow handles about 180,000 passengers a day in the peak summer period.

A spokesman for airport operator BAA said there was a chance the suspension of flights from Europe into Heathrow could be lifted later on Thursday.

Lufthansa said 36 flights to Heathrow with about 5,000 passengers had been canceled until 1800 GMT.

Major US carriers also canceled some flights in and out of Heathrow on Thursday. American Airlines said it had canceled six flights between Heathrow and the United States, while United Airlines said it was expecting delays.

Airlines as far away as Australia were affected. Qantas Airways said it was limiting carry-on luggage for its flights from Britain and banning liquids on US-bound flights.

The UK ban on hand luggage included mobile phones and handbags as well as all liquids except for essential medicines. Milk for babies would be allowed on board but must be tasted by the accompanying passenger, BAA said in a statement.