Christmas travel explainer: Latest on roads, rail and air as millions set for festive getaway

23 December 2021, 11:57

There is a high demand for leisure journeys by road, rail and air with around 44 per cent of people planning to travel over Christmas
There is a high demand for leisure journeys by road, rail and air with around 44 per cent of people planning to travel over Christmas. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

As Christmas fast approaches, many will begin making travel plans to see family, friends and loved ones over the festive period.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

But the first restriction-free Christmas in two years has led to high demand for journeys by road, rail and air with around 44 per cent of people planning to travel over Christmas.

A survey of nearly 2,000 people in Britain for watchdog Transport Focus indicated that the majority of those planning a getaway this year intend to travel by road, with only one in 10 using public transport.

This is what you can expect when traveling this Christmas:

Roads

This Christmas could see the busiest getaway on the roads in five years with some 5.3m car journeys expected to take place on Christmas Eve, according to a study by the RAC and INRIX.

The RAC has dubbed Christmas Eve 'Frantic Festive Friday' predicting traffic jams as families "make up for the fact that last Christmas was such a write-off".

Read more: Omicron ‘milder than Delta’, study suggests - as PM urged to set out post-Xmas Covid plans

Read more: Wales imposes rule of six on hospitality and slashes size of large events

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis said: "Despite the increasing prevalence of the Omicron Covid variant, our research shows that the vast majority of drivers are still determined to do Christmas properly this year – in sharp contrast to 12 months ago.

"We’re expecting the biggest Christmas getaway for five years, including a Frantic Festive Friday on Christmas Eve.

He added: "Our figures this year also point to more drivers using the roads between Christmas Day and New Year for leisure trips than normal – perhaps to make up for the fact that last Christmas was such a write-off for so many people."

Speaking about the travelling condition for road users, Met Office meteorologist Alex Deakin said: "Weather in the UK in the run up to Christmas looks more grey than white.

"High pressure, and therefore dry weather, will dominate but it will also remain mostly overcast.

"Fog is likely to be the biggest hazard on the roads and at this time of year it can take all day to clear so it won't just be a morning problem."

Railways

Rail operators have warned of cuts to services over the festive period as Omicron causes a Christmas staffing crisis.

Passengers have been told to travel "sooner rather than later" to avoid last minute cancelations to rail services ahead of Christmas Day as staff are forced to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus.

Long distance rail services are among those most impacted, but Transport for London also warned around 500 staff are currently off work due to Covid-related illness.

CrossCountry said it is "expecting widespread disruption to our services this week".

The rail provider warned: "Please pull your journey forward to sooner rather than later to get to your end destination as early as possible."

Read more: Health minister tells LBC: Don't plan NYE party if you can't cancel quickly

Read more: Deputy headteacher jailed for rape and sexual abuse of child with partner

Whilst Avanti West Coast told passengers: "The pandemic is unfortunately resulting in some staff shortages.

"We're doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short-notice cancellations."

Greater Anglia added: "We also have to plan for our staff being affected by the Omicron variant, especially as we're already starting to see the early signs of its impact, to ensure we can continue to provide a reliable service."

Other train providers such as Greater Anglia, northern, ScotRail, Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern network have also issued warnings of cancelations and reduced timetables.

Some 370 engineering projects are being carried out on the railways in the coming days, which will also disrupt services.

Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day due to Network Rail and Transport for London doing simultaneous work.

Airports

Gatwick are expecting 7 times more passengers this week than the same time last year but the number of people heading abroad remains down on pre-pandemic levels.

Gatwick Airport said it expects to welcome nearly 750,000 passengers with Thursday and Boxing Day are expected to be among its busiest days for departures, with up to 35,000 passengers each day.

Read more: Sadiq Khan: Omicron will 'surge' without new restrictions post-Christmas

Read more: Unvaccinated are facing 'winter of severe illness and death,' White House warns Americans

Gatwick's chief commercial officer, Jonathan Pollard, said the airport is "encouraged by the number of people looking to travel this Christmas" but said new coronavirus testing requirements have "impacted some people's travel plans over the holiday period".

He added: "While we understand the need for measures to stop the spread of the Omicron variant until more scientific information on its level of harm is available, it is vital these are in place no longer than absolutely necessary."

Bristol Airport is anticipating it will be used by more than 100,000 passengers between December 21 and 31.

One of its busiest days will be December 27 when approximately 12,000 passengers will fly in or out of the airport.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport said it expects around 40,000 passengers to pass through between Christmas Eve and January 3, which is around 40% of pre-pandemic levels.