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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Heathrow travellers' long wait
Virgin Atlantic check in
Many transatlantic passengers stayed away
By BBC News Online's Cindi John

Step into Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport on any ordinary Wednesday and you will find it crowded with travellers either eager to get away or heading for transport links into London and beyond.

But this particular Wednesday there is a subdued atmosphere about the place.

A few airline counters have the usual queues of eager travellers waiting impatiently to check in and get on the plane to begin their holiday.

But many of the desks are unmanned and where normally long queues of holidaymakers with laden trolleys would queue impatiently, there is nobody but airport staff to be seen.

Police officers
Security at Heathrow has been stepped up

Terminal 3 is where most transatlantic flights leave from but scan the departure boards this particular morning and you will see all US and Canadian flights have "cancelled" alongside them.

Heathrow typically has 68 transatlantic departures a day but all such flights have been grounded following the terrorist attacks in the US.

Most passengers had taken heed of the warnings and not made the journey to the airport.

"A few passengers are turning up but most have stayed away," said Kevin Baker of Virgin Atlantic.

Lack of hotels

But many travellers who arrived at the airport before the attacks had no choice but to remain.

Many spent the night there due to the shortage of hotel accommodation.

Some like Françoise Bart from Los Angeles, sat wrapped in a blanket, tried to make themselves as comfortable as possible during their long wait.

The ban on US flights is expected to last at least 24 hours but Ms Bart says she and her mother who were on a connecting flight from New Zealand, have nowhere else to go.

Check in queue
Most non-transatlantic flights are operating normally

"I've been here since 11 o'clock yesterday and had to spend the night here. We've heard nothing at all from our airline, their staff haven't even arrived yet," she said.

Australian David Boras who had spent nearly 24 hours at the airport was another traveller desperately trying to get home.

He said he was delayed because his flight to Sydney was booked via Vancouver.

"By the time we got our baggage back off the flight all the hotel rooms were gone," he said.

His wife who had booked her trip separately was luckier, Mr Boras added, her flight was via Singapore and she had got away without any problems.

Insurance exclusion

Mr Boras was philosophical about having to spend the night at the airport but others were not so long-suffering.

Jim and Pat Allen
Jim Allen complained about airline's customer service

Canadian Jim Allen said while American airlines had put their passengers up in hotels Air Canada's passengers had had to fend for themselves.

Mr Allen said: "They haven't offered me or my wife any meal vouchers, not a cup of coffee even and they haven't really given us any information as to what has happened either in the US or Canada."

"I'm a paying customer and I feel that I should be entitled to some help while we're stranded in a foreign country."

It may be some time before the Allens get home to Canada but some travellers like John Dean from Winchester were desperately hoping to get there to start their holiday.

He and other family members had planned a 3-week trip to the Rocky mountains.

"We almost got on the place yesterday be we were turned back at 4 pm. We've been hanging about ever since."

Wendy Pitman
Wendy Pitman: "Insurance won't pay up"

His sister-in-law, Wendy Pitman, expressed sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks.

The nature of the attack made it all the more imperative that they should not give up on their holiday and return home, she added.

"We won't get any money back because what's happened is due to terrorism and that's listed as an exclusion in our insurance small print.

"If we can't get over there we've lost £8,000," she said.

See also:

12 Sep 01 | UK
Attacks cancel UK flights
12 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair calls emergency security meeting
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