Airmen cautious but still flying after terror scare
Stars and Stripes August 16, 2006
RAF MILDENHALL — Airman 1st Class Anna Grisham wasn’t about to let last week’s terrorism scare keep her and a group of airmen from a summer trip to Italy.
She did, however, alter her travel plans.
The 20-year-old 48th Security Forces member said she planned to “pack a little lighter” and avoid carry-on items entirely.
“I’m just taking the bare necessities,” she said. “I’ve seen everything on TV so I’m not taking any electronics and no liquids and I’ll probably not take an extra pair of shoes. Just my passport and the essentials. I can get everything I need there.”
She said the group of airmen never discussed canceling their plans in light of the terror alert.
“I didn’t want to spend all this money and not go,” she said.
The military, for its part, made no visible effort to dissuade members from recreational air travel, keeping in line with the government’s wider public message to conduct business as usual.
Officials at both the 100th Air Refueling Wing at Mildenhall and the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath said the bases did not experience any interruptions due to the heightened security.
Thousands of travelers across the U.K. and Europe were not as fortunate.
A day before Grisham departed the U.K., hordes of travelers were waylaid at airports across the United Kingdom by the nation’s heightened security alert following the government’s announcement that it foiled a terrorism plot aimed at killing scores of air travelers. The logjam continued through the weekend as Heathrow International Airport had to cancel up to 25 percent of its flights.
British authorities apprehended nearly two dozen suspects across the country in connection with a scheme to use liquid explosives to bomb several jetliners bound for the United States in midair. However, no formal charges were filed as of Monday.
By Monday, Britain had lowered its terrorist threat level a notch, a relief for weary travelers.
Officials from both RyanAir and British Airways rallied against the heavy restrictions over the weekend and called for the British government to act quickly to return security to normal or face the possibility of a crippled aviation industry.
Authorities on Thursday closed access to the terminal at London’s Stansted International Airport, which is a hub for the low-cost airlines. It is about 40 miles from RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath.
The British Army’s 11th Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit from Colchester Barracks were called onto the scene at Stansted purely as a contingency.
“We’re here for technical advice,” said Staff Sgt. Shawn Temple. “If anything is found, we’ll deal with it then.”
The Essex Constabulary flooded the airport with officers, who aided police Constable Steve Fisk on his regular routine at Stansted.
“Everyone has been quite tolerant considering the situation,” Fisk said. “People realize that airports can be a fairly good target for nefarious individuals.”
Inside the crowded Stansted terminal, voices of confused travelers mixed with the ongoing “enhanced security measures” alerts over the public address system.
Todd Vierra, 41, of San Diego, was in England for a business convention, but was not overly worried about getting out.
He said a handful of his colleagues were caught up in the confusion trying to fly back to the United States last Thursday morning.
“We’re not on a flight yet,” Vierra said.
Airport employees were busy handing out clear, plastic bags to passengers who could only take a wallet, travel documents, eyewear, prescription medicine and baby milk through security.
Until Tuesday, all electronics, liquids and carry-on baggage had been prohibited.
The temporary restrictions hit travelers on low-cost carriers RyanAir and EasyJet particularly hard because both encourage passengers to travel only with a carry-on bag and charge extra for checked luggage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.