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European flights to London cancelled

Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, was closed to most incoming European flights, after authorities uncovered a terrorist plot.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2006 14:34 IST

Airlines across Europe cancelled flights bound for London's Heathrow Airport on Thursday while some airports said they were ready to take on diverted traffic after British authorities said they thwarted a terror attack aimed at aircraft flying from Britain to the US.

Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, was closed to most incoming European flights on Thursday morning, after authorities uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up several aircraft flying between the United States and Britain using explosives smuggled in hand luggage.

Heathrow's block on incoming traffic applied to flights of three hours or less, an airport spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with airport policy.

There were massive delays after authorities began enforcing strict new security regulations banning hand luggage led to many European carriers cancelling their flights to Heathrow.

Laptop computers, mobile phones, iPods and remote controls were among items banned from being carried on board. Prescription medicines were permitted; as were eyeglasses but not their cases, the British Department of Transport said.

Contact lenses could be taken aboard in their cases, but bottles of solution were banned.

British Airways said all of its short-haul flights to and from Heathrow through 1400 GMT were cancelled. The airline advised passengers to avoid travelling if possible.

At Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, KLM spokesman Hugo Baas said the airline had cancelled five flights to Heathrow.

"The backlog for people travelling to and through London is in the hours. That's going to create a ripple effect throughout the day, and increase as long as the airport remains closed," he said.

He said KLM was diverting to other London airports, and substituting larger planes where possible to increase the number of people getting through.

Cicero Alves Do Nascimento, a 47-year-old Brazilian martial arts teacher, was stuck at Schiphol after his British Midland flight to Heathrow was cancelled.

"This is not fun at all. You get no compensation. Nobody gets any help here. You feel abandoned," he said, adding he was rebooked on a flight for Friday but got no voucher for a hotel or food because the airline said it wasn't to blame.

The US government raised its threat assessment to the highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States.

Frankfurt International airport, Europe's second-busiest, said it was prepared to take any traffic diverted from Heathrow.

The airport already has more than 1,400 planes landing and taking off daily, spokesman Wolfgang Schwalm said, adding that no flights diverted from Heathrow had landed at Frankfurt by late morning.

Schwalm said security measures had been increased but that no ban on hand luggage had been put into place at Frankfurt.

Other airports, including Amsterdam's Schiphol and Charles De Gaulle in Paris, also said they would be able to accommodate Heathrow-bound planes if necessary.

Austrian Airlines said a Heathrow-bound flight from Vienna was diverted to Brussels and that two other afternoon flights would be canceled if Heathrow remained closed.

Airports across Europe reported some cancellations, while others stopped all flights to London.

In Berlin, easyJet, British Airways, AirBerlin and Ryanair canceled their London-bound flights.

Air France cancelled all Thursday morning flights to Heathrow because the airport was "saturated," an Air France spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in accordance with the airline's policy.

All airlines stopped flights on Thursday from Brussels to Heathrow, a Brussels international Airport official said on condition of anonymity in line with standing policy.