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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 January, 2004, 07:44 GMT
Few signs of fear on BA223

By Andy Tighe
BBC correspondent, on board BA223 to Washington

"There may be a little turbulence," said Captain Ian Herve jauntily as he announced the much-awaited take-off of British Airways Flight 223 to Washington DC.

Frankly, bumping around in the air was the least of my worries.

This was BA's third attempt at getting this Boeing 747 off the runway at Heathrow.

The previous two flights had been cancelled for security reasons. And even now we were more than three hours overdue.

Queues for BA 223
Rigorous checks were made before boarding
The boarding process had been exhausting. Even by the standards of post-9/11 security procedures, this was painstakingly thorough.

Every Washington-based passenger on the flight had his or her name checked manually against a list that would be sent to the US authorities.

Without their approval the flight was unlikely to get off the ground.

On New Year's Eve the same flight was escorted into Washington Dulles Airport by fighter planes and the passengers rigorously questioned.

Hand-baggage was scrutinised carefully. Woe-betide anyone who mistakenly packed so much as a tooth-pick.

Few complaints

Selected passengers were themselves frisked and some - myself included - were questioned by plain-clothes detectives.

At the departure gates, armed police and teams of sniffer-dogs passed along the queues of passengers waiting patiently to board the aircraft.

Stern-faced airline security staff stood in a line, waiting to carry out random searches.

Surprisingly perhaps, there were few complaints about the regular announcements putting back our estimated departure time.

This is probably the safest aircraft over the Atlantic tonight
Captain Ian Herve
British Airways
Most people seemed relieved that such attention was so obviously being paid to their safety.

But even once we were all on board there was more waiting.

The American authorities were still checking out details, we were told.

Again, there was little grumbling. The plane was nearly full and many of the passengers were Americans anxious to get home after a festive break in Europe.

Only when the engines began to rumble and the plane slowly edged forward towards the runway were we sure that the flight really was going ahead.

Lessons

I may have been mistaken, but perhaps there was a little more attention paid than usual to the aircraft safety announcements.

And perhaps more people than normal bothered to watch the cabin staff when they indicated the emergency exits.

But on the whole, there were few signs of fear or even apprehension.

My fellow-passengers appeared to have already adapted themselves to the new realities of international travel in an age of terrorist alerts.

BA planes
The US authorities checked every passenger's name carefully
"This is probably the safest aircraft over the Atlantic tonight," announced Captain Herve reassuringly from the flight deck.

He was almost certainly right. But the events of the last few days have reminded airlines, governments and passengers of one important thing: that safeguarding civil aviation against international terrorism carries a price in terms of disruption and delays.

There was relief as we touched down in Washington and few seemed to mind that we were some hours overdue.

But if this becomes a recurrent feature of international air travel, passengers will quite possibly be less understanding.

And hard questions may start to be asked about the origin and the reliability of the intelligence information upon which the authorities are relying.




SEE ALSO:
Plane knifeman arrested
02 Jan 04  |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Q&A: Flight terror fears
02 Jan 04  |  UK
Q&A: BA passenger rights
02 Jan 04  |  Business
BA flight cancelled over security
02 Jan 04  |  Americas


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