Howard blamed for plane delay

HE HAS already drawn ire in the US by booking Barack Obama's pre-inauguration pad, but former prime minister John Howard may have also angered others yesterday.

The US-bound Qantas flight taking John and Janette Howard to the US was delayed by about an hour yesterday afternoon, leaving scores of US holidaymakers returning home with a frustrating wait.

The airline said the delay of flight 107 was simply the result of routine cabin cleaning and the search for a missing passenger.

But passengers told family and friends that Qantas had decided to undertake an extra security check because of Mr Howard's presence on the flight.

"We're having a longer delay because the (former) prime minister's in my flight," said one passenger in a text message. "So they're checking everyone's bags (again)."

The passenger's relative, Steve Samson, said this was not the only message of frustration.

"We were on the observation deck, not knowing what was going on, and a guy said his 17-year-old daughter was on board and he was getting messages saying exactly the same thing," Mr Samson said.

"They were all saying that the flight was delayed because Qantas had decided to check everyone's bags because Mr Howard was on board …

"You've got to wonder what's going on when they decided to step up security just because there's a prominent person on board."

Qantas confirmed yesterday a "certain former prime minister" was on the flight but it was adamant the delay had nothing to do with increased security.

"There was a 55-minute delay due to cabin cleaning and presentation requirements and the need to locate a missing passenger," a Qantas spokesman said.

Mr and Mrs Howard made headlines in the US last week as a result of their booking for the Washington residence, Blair House, on January 12.

The family of the President-elect, Barack Obama, had hoped to move into the traditional pre-inauguration residence earlier this month, but were forced to change plans because of the Howard booking.

"It's probably not Mr Howard's fault, but you've got to wonder what image of Australia they're getting," Mr Samson said.

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