Friday is set to be the busiest day of the Christmas period on UK roads, with more than 14 million people setting out on significant journeys, according to motoring organisations.Airports and airlines are also expecting their traffic to peak, with rail links set to be disrupted later in the holidays.The AA forecasts the biggest surge in traffic on Friday, with 14 million drivers planning trips of more than 20 miles. According to traffic analysts Inrix, journeys on some motorways will take three times longer than normal at peak times.Shopping traffic is set to peak on Saturday 19 December, which has been branded panic Saturday by retailers.
Delays will peak at around 4pm on Friday, as Christmas traffic exacerbates the usual evening traffic. The worst-affected roads will be major motorways, including the M25, M5 and M4, with a 32-mile section of the M25 in both directions from junctions 7 to 16 forecast to see delays of up to 2 hours 20 minutes. Inrix also warned drivers heading west on the A4 and south on the M5 to prepare for lengthy delays.
Meanwhile, rail engineering works will mainly affect the south-east, apart from limited disruption between Stafford and Crewe and around Doncaster on 27-28 December. Most major London stations, bar Charing Cross and Paddington, will remain open throughout, lessening the impact on the busiest hubs. However, about half of all services out of Victoria, London Bridge and Liverpool Street will be affected by work on Thameslink and on the major lines through Anglia and to Brighton.
Those engineering works will severely affect servcies to Britain’s busiest airports, with the Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express services SUSPENDED. The fast Heathrow train will not run while Paddington is closed from 25-28 December, and the Gatwick Express will stop late on Christmas Eve and resume on 4 January. The line closure will mean trains take 90 minutes from central London to the capital’s second biggest airport. Coach operator National Express is adding more than 20,000 extra seats to its airport routes to compensate.
Ahead of that disruption easyjet, the biggest airline at Gatwick, said Friday will be its busiest Christmas getaway day ever, with more than 204,000 passengers flying across its European network and a record 115,000 passengers flying to or from its UK airports. Amsterdam and Geneva top easyJet’s list of most popular destinations for UK travellers.
According to the Association of British Travel Agents, 4 million people from the UK are expected to travel abroad during the holiday period, with air passenger numbers peaking Friday and on Tuesday, with most returning on 30 December. Hundreds of thousands of people will travel across the Channel by ferry or train, with Eurostar set to be at busiest on Friday.