At Heathrow Airport

Stranded in the Center of the Storm

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 11, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 10 -- The uncovering early Thursday of an alleged plot to blow U.S.-bound airliners out of the sky prompted British authorities to clamp down on travel at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport -- causing hundreds of delays and cancellations and confronting travelers, some frustrated, others frightened, with one of Europe's worst flying days.

"I will be a little afraid of flying today," said 19-year-old Anna Lamdhol of Stockholm, a cashier returning home to make money for more trips. In a terminal overflowing with passengers, Lamdhol sat on the floor of an electronic-door entryway with other stranded teenage travelers. Hunching her shoulders, she was one of the few to show, and admit, fear.

"I do think of it. I'm afraid, but I don't want to let them stop me," Lamdohl said.

Flights already in the air at the time arrests began were kept on the tarmac for hours after landing. Airlines canceled U.S.-bound flights; some, including several European airlines, canceled all flights. The ripple of delays spread to the United States, Asia and elsewhere.

New security measures at Heathrow were put into use for the first time. Passengers whose flights were allowed to take off were ordered to first check all luggage, including purses, laptops and cellphones.

Airline workers handed out clear plastic bags, as well as lists of what passengers could put inside to carry on: Wallets, passports, tickets, glasses, contact lens cases, tissues, keys, diapers, sanitary napkins and tampons, bottles of baby milk and food -- and nothing else.

The directives said each bottle of baby milk would have to be tasted by the accompanying adult in front of the airline workers. Flight workers were taking all other liquids from travelers, reflecting official suspicion that liquid explosives were to be used in the alleged assault.

The mass of thousands inside the terminal eased at early afternoon as airline officials urged travelers to come back the next day, or the day after. Crowds surged again as new travelers arrived to try to make flights, forming lines that stretched out the terminal and onto the sidewalks.

For incoming passengers Barry and Lynn Goldstein of Seattle and their two boys, traveling to London on an American Airlines flight, the first inkling that something was amiss came from their pilot's vague mention over the public address system of increased security at Heathrow Airport.

When the Goldsteins finally disembarked, it was to the sight of their terminal surrounded by cordons of yellow-jacketed British police cradling automatic weapons, and crowds of thousands of other grounded passengers swelling inside the gray departure hall.

"I remember it happened on 9/11," said Benjamin Goldstein, 11, nodding unperturbed among the milling families pressing in at one ticket counter. Now, he said, "9/11 kind of happens to you."

The Goldsteins, and many others, planned to take trains to continue their interrupted vacations or business.

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