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Europe's busiest airport snarled
LONDON — London's Heathrow Airport turned into a chaotic waiting room Thursday, as hundreds of flights were canceled and stranded passengers traded scarce information about the cause of the delay.
"What happened?" asked Lisa Sawyer, a Milwaukee teacher who, like thousands of others, was stuck in a terminal without televisions.
Some people using pay phones openly wept in frustration. Others slept on the floor or watched videos on laptop computers — now among banned carry-on items. Dozens of police roamed the terminals and the Heathrow tube (subway) station.
Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, serves 200,000 passengers a day on 1,250 flights. About 10 percent of the flights are trans-Atlantic.
Many travelers said they knew little, if anything, about the terror plot British officials said they foiled. Announcements referred only to delays resulting from a heightened security situation.
British foil plan to kill thousands over the Atlantic.
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Passengers on some arriving flights sat on the runway for more than two hours. Inside the terminals, police in yellow jackets patrolled between sliding glass security doors, automatic weapons in their hands. Clumps of teenage travelers camped out in every departure lounge and corridor.
Some weary passengers sprawled out on luggage trolleys. At the hotel information desk, clerks explained that they were running out of rooms.
Jean Oakland, a 64-year-old retiree whose flight to Norway had been canceled, said she had no money left to pay for a London hotel room anyway.
"We're all stranded," Oakland said. "I'm going to stock up on refreshments and camp out here overnight and see what happens tomorrow."
Faced with a three-hour delay, Margo McIntyre, 62, of Burns Flat, Okla., described three ways to pass the time: "Eat, drink, shop. We still have a few British pounds to spend."
Her daughter, Kirsten McIntyre, said she wasn't worried about flying on a U.S.-bound aircraft, even though the plot was said to target airlines heading to America. "I feel if you are going to travel, today is the day to travel because security is so high," said McIntyre, a television reporter with KWTV in Oklahoma City. "Today is a good day to fly."
Passengers arriving from the United States said they were told little about what was happening until they landed. "The pilot said there was a security alert, but we didn't realize how serious it was until we got here," said Elaine Green, 64, a retired teacher from Pebble Beach, Calif. Green flew United Airlines to London from San Francisco.
Her friend Janet Roberts, a Pebble Beach artist, said her United flight from Los Angeles sat on the tarmac for two hours before the jet taxied to the gate. "There was not much to do other than stand up or watch 'Mission: Impossible III' for the third time," said Roberts, 50.
Some terminals grew so crowded that virtually every bit of space was occupied. By late afternoon, officials began urging people whose flights had been canceled to go home and check back today. The masses began to thin.
Those still hoping to board flights were told to check all carry-on luggage except wallets, eyeglasses, essential medication and food or formula for babies. Airline employees handed out clear plastic bags and told passengers to stow those permitted items inside so they could be scrutinized at all times.
Scott McDonnell, a Canadian citizen, had intended to fly to Newark, N.J., a metropolitan New York destination that, like Washington, D.C., and California, allegedly was targeted in the plot.
"It can happen in the U.S. It can happen in Canada, Spain, England," McDonnell said, recalling the June arrests of 17 Canadian boys and men who police said were planning a two-pronged bombing attack. "It doesn't matter where you live anymore. It can happen."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company