Four transatlantic flights scheduled
from Europe to the United States did not take to the skies because of security
fears, and two more scheduled for Monday have been canceled.
In Paris, Glasgow, and London, airline check-in staff have been busy trying
to shift passengers onto alternative flights. Those affected were travelers
on an Air France flight from Paris to Washington, British Airways flights from
London to Washington and Miami, and a Continental Airlines flight from Glasgow
to Los Angeles via Newark, New Jersey.
All three carriers have chosen to ground the flights, based upon strong recommendations
from their respective governments.
A U.S. official said Saturday that the moves were based upon a credible threat
from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post, citing information from three intelligence
officials, reported Sunday that intelligence information that extremists releasing
deadly biological or chemical agents could be on board a plane may be behind
But aviation security expert Chris Yates from the respected Jane's Transport
says it remains unclear what exactly is behind the scare that has grounded
the passenger jetliners.
"There has been an awful lot of speculation, of course, in the last 24 hours
about the actual nature of the threat," he said. "Whether we are talking about
a hijacking or whether indeed we are talking about the release of chemical
or biological agents on board aircraft. I happen to think that the latter two
issues, we could discount."
Mr. Yates believes it has to do with suspicious names that are logged in
data bases in the United States.
"We are now into the [Muslim] festival of Eid, and a lot of the people who
were traveling out to Mecca, or who traveled out to Mecca are returning over
the next few days," he explained. "They are coming through the aviation system.
And it remains a strong possibility that their names are being picked up by
the authorities and compared with watch lists, and perhaps those matches are
Meanwhile, the British Airline Pilots' Association has expressed concerns
over the strength of the American intelligence reports. The association wants
the British government to scrutinize more closely the validity of those threat
Last month, two British Airways flights were grounded for undisclosed security