FRANKFURT, Germany, AP – European carriers canceled flights Thursday to Britain, where airports were experiencing massive delays after authorities said they thwarted a terrorist plot to blow up aircraft in flight.
Heathrow airport, the busiest airport in Europe, was closed to most European flights. The block on incoming traffic applied to flights of three hours or less, an airport spokesman said. Congestion was building up rapidly as authorities enforced strict new regulations banning most hand baggage.
Passengers faced delays as tighter security was hastily enforced at the country’s airports and additional measures were put in place for all flights, and British Airways said some flights were likely to be canceled.
British authorities said they thwarted a terrorist plot to blow up “a number of aircraft” in mid-flight between the United States and Britain using explosives smuggled in hand luggage.
Terrorists aimed to “bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life,” Home Secretary John Reid said. Police arrested a number of people in London after an operation that lasted several months, but did not immediately say how many.
The Department of Transport said passengers would not be allowed to carry any hand baggage on board any aircraft departing from any airport in the country.
Laptop computers, mobile phones, iPods, and remote controls were among the items banned from being carried on board. Prescription medicines were permitted; as were eyeglasses but not their cases, the department said. Contact lenses could be taken aboard in their cases, but bottles of solution were banned.
Passengers were also advised that no electrical or battery powered items including laptops and mobile phones could be carried into the cabin.
The U.S. government raised its threat assessment to the highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States.
German carrier Lufthansa said its morning and early afternoon flights to Britain were canceled because of “logistical and not security” reasons. No other Lufthansa flights were affected.
Spain’s Iberia said it had canceled four flights to Heathrow in total, and Italian carrier Alitalia stopped six flights through London — four linking the city with Rome and two with Milan. Alitalia said it would decide later Thursday whether to continue the cancelations.
“For now, all flights to London Heathrow have been canceled,” a Brussels international Airport official said.