Frustration and anxiety gripped travelers at British airports Thursday, as the thwarting of an alleged major terrorist plot brought air travel to a grinding halt at the height of the summer tourist season.
At London's Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest airport, check-in lines stretched out the door, armed police patrolled the terminals and staff struggled to keep up with a flood of questions from travelers.
Some passengers stood for hours in slow-moving lines, while others gave up and sat, surrounded by piles of luggage. Departure boards showed a smattering of flights taking off, but many others were listed as canceled.
Kendra Webb, an 18-year-old student from San Francisco, cried as she spoke on the phone to relatives at home.
"This is hell," she said. "I hate this airport. I just want a cigarette right now."
Police said Thursday they had disrupted a plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft between Britain and the United States using explosives smuggled in hand luggage
The British Airports Authority, which runs several major airports, told passengers to expect long delays and stringent security measures. Passengers were told to check all baggage - only plastic bags carrying passports, money and other essential items were being allowed onboard.
British Airways scrapped more than 200 domestic and European flights. Heathrow - which normally sees 1,250 departures and arrivals a day - was closed to arriving European flights, and airlines including Alitalia, Lufthansa, Iberia and Aer Lingus canceled flights to Heathrow.
Some flights were leaving, but with severe delays.
"It's scary," said Fran Barkan, an American teacher trying to fly to New York. "The whole flight will be worrying. It's not going to be a conformable flight - if we get on today."
Many travelers were philosophical about the delays.
"I'm sure enough people thought 9/11 could have been today. That could have been us," said Luci Mason, 40, whose flight to Scotland was canceled. "The people here are annoyed, but not up in arms. Some disruption might save my life."
Delays and cancellations hit airports across the country. At Scotland's Glasgow Airport, only passengers with tickets were allowed into the terminal, and shops inside were shut.
Many flights out of London's Stansted Airport were also canceled, and most of those that went were delayed, some by several hours.
There was a heavy police presence inside the crowded terminal and a police helicopter circled overhead.
Passengers stood in long lines for security checks, clutching transparent plastic bags containing the few items they were allowed to take on board. Mothers of bottle-fed children were required to taste the contents of bottles in front of security staff before being allowed to take flights.
"It's absolute chaos," said Vanessa Lee, who traveled two hours from Spalding in eastern England to fly to visit friends in Pisa, Italy, but found her flight canceled. "Ryanair's computers keep crashing because they can't keep track of all the changes."
At Manchester Airport in northwest England - the country's busiest outside London - flights to Heathrow were suspended, but 15 scheduled flights to the United States, carrying 3,000 passengers, had managed to take off.
"I'm not worried at all; this seems to be the safest day to fly with all the security," said Robert Ashton, 43, who was facing a three-hour delay on his flight to Turkey.
Associated Press Writers Sue Leeman at Stansted Airport and Rob Harris at Manchester Airport contributed to this report.
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