Just when it looked like many of the glitches that plagued the opening of Hong Kong's new $20 billion airport had been eliminated, passengers found themselves confronting a new obstacle: chipmunks.

One of four chipmunks that apparently had been smuggled onto a British Airways flight from Hong Kong to London broke free and roamed through the crowded economy-class cabin just before the 14-hour flight landed, the South China Morning Post reported.The paper said one woman was scratched.

The rodents posed a danger to passenger safety: They could have chewed through aircraft wiring or carried rabies, the paper said, quoting veterinarians and officials at Chek Lak Kok airport.

Two Frenchmen who allegedly smuggled the animals on board were questioned in London, then allowed to continue on to Paris. The chipmunks were being held in quarantine, the report said.

Esther Wong, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong's Airport Authority, said the chipmunks were probably stowed in the passengers' pockets or hand luggage prior to the Wednesday flight, but the X-ray security system does not detect live animals.

"The system only screens guns or weapons. This is a piece of flesh," Wong said.

British Airways officials in Hong Kong could not be reached on Saturday.

The Post said in a recent story that its reporters strolled freely in a restricted area of the Hong Kong airport's cargo terminal, even though they didn't have the required permits.

Just last week, for the first time since it opened in early July, Chek Lap Kok airport was handling a full range of air cargo. Serious computer and mechanical lapses had crippled those services, forcing the cargo handler to move part of the operation back to the old Kai Tak airport.