Christmas getaway gathering pace

Witney Gazette: Millions of people are joining the Christmas getaway Millions of people are joining the Christmas getaway

Millions of people are on the move in the biggest day of the Christmas getaway, with festive travellers crowding on to trains, boats and planes.

A sizeable chunk of the four million heading abroad for the holiday period are flying from UK airports, with the Canary Islands one of the top destinations.

On the roads, the Highways Agency has either completed or suspended roadworks at a number of sites on England's motorways and major A-roads.

Some works on busy routes, such as sections of the M25 and the M1, are still in place, and motoring organisations say today is likely to be extremely busy.

Many travellers are heading home for the holiday break by rail. Those using trains over the festive period will have to contend with a number of engineering projects.

Among the routes affected are the Gatwick Express line from Victoria station in London to Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. A major project means that there will be no Gatwick Express services from Christmas Day to the end of New Year's Day.

Travel organisation Abta said today, tomorrow and Sunday are likely to be the busiest days for those flying abroad.

The most -popular destinations for sun lovers were the Canary Islands, Tunisia, Morocco and the Cape Verde Islands off western Africa.

For those flying long haul, Dubai, Mexico, Cuba and Kenya are favourite spots, while for skiers Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy are the top spots.

Popular for New Year's Eve breaks are Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Rome and Dublin, Abta said.

For those holidaying in the UK, London and York are popular along with the seaside resorts of Llandudno in North Wales, Torquay and Eastbourne.

Abta said around 360,000 travellers would be flying from Stansted over the Christmas period, with around the same number leaving from Manchester, 175,000 from Luton and 100,000 from Glasgow and Edinburgh airports.

Ryanair is carrying a record three million passengers from December 20 to January 6, while Gatwick will handle an estimated two million travellers between December 13 and January 5.

British Airways said just under two million people will fly with the airline between December 16 and January 5, with today being the busiest day with more than 115,000 travellers flying.

Channel Tunnel high-speed rail company Eurostar said it will be carrying more than 420,000 people from December 20 to January 3 - an 11% rise on the same period 12 months ago.

In the UK, an estimated £2 billion is being spent on travel to friends and families this Christmas, and the RAC is predicting that 13 million people will take to the roads from December 24 to 26.

Traffic information company Inrix said the busiest time on the roads was likely to be from noon to 5pm today, with the M25 being the most congested spot.

Inrix warned that journey times could triple at the busiest festive time, with shopping areas being particularly busy this weekend and again on Friday 27.

VisitEngland said around 20% of the adult population planned to spend at least one night away from home over the festive period, with these trips boosting the UK economy by around £1.9 billion.

A spokesman for rail industry organisation the Rail Delivery Group said: "As fewer passengers travel over the festive period, we can continue one of the biggest programme of improvements in the railway's history while ensuring the vast majority experience no disruption whatsoever."

A series of accidents on major road routes hampered the getaway this morning. One of the worst-hit areas was the M5 at Bristol, where an overturned van led to long tailbacks.

Other roads where there were hold-ups included the M1 in West Yorkshire and in Leicestershire, the M 4 in Berkshire, Wiltshire and south Wales, the M8 in Glasgow, the M25 in Essex, and the A56 at Accrington in Lancashire.

Air traffic control company Nats said around 5,800 flights would be handled today - the busiest day of the festive period - and an increase on the 5, 664 aircraft movements on the last Friday before Christmas last year, which was also the busiest day.

Nats, which endured a major technical problem at its Hampshire headquarters causing flight disruption on Saturday December 7, said Saturdays in December had been particularly busy, with many jetting off for skiing holidays.

The company said that air traffic was likely to be reduced between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day with Nats predicting around 1,400 flights on Christmas Day and around 3,900 on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

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