LONDON — International airlines scrambled to divert or cancel flights to the United States on Tuesday after a wave of airborne terror attacks on New York and Washington. Israel closed its airspace to foreign carriers.
The cancellations and diversions caused confusion and congestion at many European airports, where airlines ordered flights bound for the United States to do U-turns or find alternate landing points outside America.
Some airlines reversed course only after being denied permission to land by the Federal Aviation Administration, which ordered U.S. airspace shut down in response to the apparent hijacking of U.S. passenger jets by suicide bombers.
Israel closed its airspace to foreign airlines. Israeli carriers — which carry out stringent security checks — will still be able to land at Israel's four airports, said Yerach Tal, an adviser to the Israeli transport minister. The ban will be in effect for 24 hours, and will then be reviewed, Tal said.
The German Flight Security Agency in Frankfurt ordered all U.S.-bound flights by Lufthansa canceled. A Finnair flight out of Helsinki turned around and returned to Finland. Air France Group ordered its American flights closed or rerouted.
In Belgium, Sabena Air spokesman Wilfried Remans said two flights en route to the United States were "turning around in mid-flight and returning to Brussels."
In Spain, national carrier Iberia said four scheduled flights from Madrid to the United States were in the air and three of them — destined to New York, Chicago and Miami — were ordered to return to Spain. The fourth, flying from Barcelona to New York, was awaiting clearance into a Canadian airport, an Iberia official said.
Scandinavian Airlines System ordered three flights bound for New York, and another flight bound for Washington, to divert while over the Atlantic. They were expected to land instead in Iceland. SAS spokesman Thomas Brinch in Copenhagen said he wasn't sure when flights to the United States would resume.
At Heathrow Airport outside London, several flights already bound for the United States were expected to divert to Canadian airports while those that hadn't taken off were delayed indefinitely.
British Airways, which flies to 21 destinations in the United States, said all services were being canceled, diverting to the nearest airport outside the United States, or returning to London.
Virgin Atlantic also canceled its daily services to New York and other U.S. cities, but said its services from London to the Caribbean would be uninterrupted.
A Swissair flight carrying Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, bound from Zurich to New York, turned back over the Atlantic Ocean after being denied permission to land, Cypriot radio reported.
The flight returned to Europe, according to the report, which didn't specify an airport.
Clerides was heading to New York for United Nations talks on the reunification of Cyprus.