WASHINGTON (AP) _ A small bird flew into the cockpit of a United Airlines plane at Dulles International Airport Friday night, forcing the carrier to delay for three hours a flight full of London-bound passengers.

United spokesman Tony Molinaro said the bird came either from within the airport or sneaked aboard through a hole in the jetway. It entered the Boeing 777-200, flew into the cockpit and hid inside an electrical panel.

Technicians removed the panel but did not find the bird until more than 2 1/2 hours later. It's condition was not immediately known.

But by then the airline had decided to switch planes ``just to play it safe,'' Molinaro said. Flight 920 finally took off at 10:10 p.m. EDT.The bird's condition was not immediately known.

``It's a once in a lifetime'' thing, Molinaro said.