Published on : Friday, December 24, 2021
Almost half of people in Britain plan to travel to visit friends or family over the festive period, research shows, as people enjoy their first Christmas getaway in two years.
But there are signs that some are taking shorter trips or even cancelling them because of the Omicron variant.
And rail companies have warned of disruption to some services due to high staff absence and strike action.
The COVID-19 curbs meant many people cancelled their Christmas plans last year. But this year there are no restrictions on gatherings, although people are being urged to take care, particularly around vulnerable people.
The majority of those planning getaways this year intend to travel by road, with only one in 10 taking public transport, according to the research by Transport Focus.
The RAC expects an estimated that 4.1 million journeys by people embarking on overnight stays or day trips to take place on UK roads on Thursday, rising to 5.3 million on Christmas Eve. However, it said the rush was smaller than usual, in part because more people were working from home.
RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said that because most schools in England and Wales broke up a week ago, it has meant drivers have been able to stagger their journeys.
The AA told that Thursday and Friday were expected to be the busiest days on the roads. The M25, M1, M6, M27, M60 and M62 motorways could all see congestion.
But Jack Cousens, head of roads policy, said people were being a “little bit more cautious” and opting for shorter trips of one to three days, rather than a whole week.
Disruption expected to rail
Although demand for rail travel is at about 50% of pre-pandemic levels, thousands of people are travelling by train to spend Christmas with loved ones.
However, Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, LNER, Scotrail and West Midlands Railway have all reported cancellations due to staff shortages.
Some 370 engineering projects are being carried out on the railways in the coming days, which will also disrupt services.
CrossCountry has said it will cancel many services on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in a dispute over the role of train guards. The Rail Delivery Group urged everyone to check before travelling.
Now the train companies are prioritising running the maximum number of trains possible this week, while current bookings for the festive period are around a third down compared to pre-pandemic.
The number of people heading abroad is higher than last year, but remains down on pre-pandemic levels.
Gatwick Airport said it expected to welcome nearly 750,000 passengers from 18 to 31 December. That’s nearly seven times more than during the same period last year, but less than half of what it saw before the crisis.
Chief commercial officer Jonathan Pollard said the airport was “encouraged by the number of people looking to travel this Christmas”, but that new testing requirements had “impacted some people’s travel plans”.
The Eurostar and Brittany Ferries both told the PA news agency they had seen a rise in cancellations after France announced a ban on UK arrivals for tourism and business trips last week.