Police at Heathrow Airport are investigating how a 12-year-old boy slipped through security and managed to board a British Airways flight to Los Angeles without a ticket or boarding pass.
The unaccompanied child, who had no travel documents, mingled with passengers getting on the flight and was only spotted when cabin crew asked to see his boarding pass in order to direct him to his seat.
The mystery youngster, who is thought to be Dutch, was not travelling with his parents, and refused to cooperate with cabin crew when he was challenged.
Fellow passengers said he refused to leave the aircraft and was eventually removed by police officers who boarded to assist aircrew.
As a result of the security lapse, the aircraft had to be cleared and all the passengers were forced to undergo a second security check, delaying the flight by more than four hours.
Detectives were working to establish where the boy was originally from and how he had managed to pass through strict security cordons, without being spotted.
One theory is that he was a transit passenger who had arrived at Heathrow with a ticket to an onward destination, but had then attempted to see if he how far he could get with our being challenged as part of an elaborate dare.
The lapse also raises concerns over the effectiveness of security checks at Britain’s busiest airport, although a spokesman for British Airways insisted the boy had been through the same controls as all other passengers.
The spokesman said: “We have apologised to our customers for the delay to their flight after an issue during boarding.
“The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our top priority and everyone who had boarded the aircraft had been subject to security checks.
“We conducted additional precautionary screening as soon as this issue came to light and we are assisting the police with their enquiries.”
Rachel Richardson, who was heading to Los Angeles on a business trip, described chaotic scenes as airline staff tried to deal with the situation.
She said: “The boy would not speak to the cabin crew and they were asking if anybody spoke Dutch. He would not help them understand where his bags were so the whole aircraft had to be cleared which meant we were almost more than four hours delayed taking off. It was very frustrating.”
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “A 12-year-old boy boarded a BA flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles at around 17:15hrs on 14 July.
“He was identified by cabin crew during pre-flight check. He did not have a ticket or any travel documents.
"The boy was an unaccompanied minor. He is not a UK national. As a security precaution, passenger de-planed following a discussion between police and the captain.
“The child is believed to have arrived at Heathrow as a transit passenger.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said:
“We are working with our police colleagues and British Airways to understand how an unauthorised passenger boarded the incorrect aircraft. The individual did not represent a security risk and, purely as a precaution, the aircraft in question was re-screened and has since departed. We apologise for the disruption and will continue working closely with the authorities and our airline partners to keep the airport safe.”