Driving home for Christmas! Brits hit the roads in time for the festive period

·4-min read
Drivers have been urged to avoid long journeys on Friday if possible (PA Wire/PA Images)
Drivers have been urged to avoid long journeys on Friday if possible (PA Wire/PA Images)

Nearly half of Britons plan to travel to visit loved ones over the festive period, according to research.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would not be introducing any new Covid restrictions ahead of Christmas.

But analysis of traffic shows signs some people are taking shorter journeys or cancelling them altogether due to fears over the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, those using rail services over the festive period could see disruption due to staff shortages and strike action.

Covidrestrictions across the UK meant thousands of families cancelled their plans last year.

This year there are no rules limiting how many people can gather but the Prime Minister has urged people to “exercise caution”, especially with those who are vulnerable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “exercise caution” (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “exercise caution” (PA Wire)

Research by Transport Focus found one in 10 people plan on using public transport for festive getaways.

There will be an estimated 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, according to the RAC.

However, it said the rush was smaller than usual - in part because more people were working from home.

“Because most schools in England and Wales broke up a week ago, it has meant drivers have been able to stagger their journeys,” RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis added.

“The increase in people having to isolate as a result of the Omicron Covid variant is also going to play a part.”

December 23 and December 24 are predicted to be the busiest days on the road, according to the AA, with 54 per cent of people intending to travel on those days.

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.

“It’s quite clear some have cancelled journeys,” he added.

And with snowfall forecast for some parts of the UK over the Christmas weekend, almost one in five drivers admitted to feeling more nervous about taking to the roads this winter, according to research by what3words.

AA President Edmund King said: “As the UK continues to navigate ongoing levels of uncertainty, we are urging drivers to add extra layers of protection to their planning, to offset the potential disruption that busier roads and inclement weather can cause.

“Downloading the app what3words will not only help us to help you, it also provides a sense of security for drivers in knowing that no matter what the situation or your location, you know exactly where you are.”

Although demand for rail travel is at about half 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.

Avanti West Coast, whose services include the London Euston to Glasgow route, warned its customers: “The pandemic is unfortunately resulting in some staff shortages, we’re doing everything we can to run our full timetable.

“There may be short notice cancellations, so please check on the day of travel.”

LNER said it had implemented an amended timetable on Christmas eve “due to increased Driver and Train Manager absence from coronavirus”.

The rail operator said it was seeing an increase in staff needing to self-isolate, which was impacting its services.

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.

“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,” a spokesman said.

“We know how important this Christmas is for people and our mission is to get everyone to where they are going.”

Gatwick Airport (PA Archive)
Gatwick Airport (PA Archive)

The number of people travelling to abroad for Christmas is up from last year but still lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Gatwick Airport forecasts it will see nearly 750,000 passengers pass through its terminals from December 18 to 31, nearly seven times more than during the same period last year.

Chief commercial officer Jonathan Pollard said the airport was “encouraged by the number of people looking to travel this Christmas” but new testing requirements had “impacted some people’s travel plans”.

Eurostar and Brittany Ferries said they had seen a rise in cancellations after France announced a ban on UK arrivals for tourism and business trips last week.

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