Millions begin Christmas getaway

Braintree and Witham Times: Millions of people will take to the roads as the Christmas getaway gathers pace Millions of people will take to the roads as the Christmas getaway gathers pace

The great Christmas getaway will start in earnest today as millions of people hit the roads and crowd onto trains, planes and boats.

It is thought today and tomorrow will see the bulk of travellers get on the move as they look to spend the festive period with loved ones.

Others will travel to the airports to get some winter sun or take to the slopes over Christmas.

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 to ease congestion.

Some works on busy routes, such as sections of the M25 and the M1, are still in place, with warnings certain stretches will be extremely busy.

Those using trains over the festive period will have to contend with a number of engineering projects, including 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 the weekend will continue to be busy for those flying abroad.

As well as the Canary Islands, other popular destinations include 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 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.

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

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