Christmas travel hurdles for trains, planes and automobiles

However people plan to travel, there could be problems

Signs warn of railway travel disruption ahead. EPA
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The UK holiday season is fast approaching and people are downing tools, sparking concerns for people travelling on the busiest days

In normal years, Christmas is the busiest time for travel and shopping but a series of strikes means more planning might be needed.

However people plan to travel — whether flying in from abroad, or crossing the country by train or car — there are hurdles in the way.

Shop owners hope their premises will be filled with people hunting for gifts but the strikes could stop people visiting city centre high streets and shopping centres.

As strikes by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) close a large part of the rail network around Christmas, more people could choose to drive, filling the jammed roads with even more traffic on what are already the busiest days of the year.

For those who decide against travelling between cities, there’s a mail strike slowing deliveries of Christmas cards and internet shopping.

International arrivals

Flights

Strikes from December 23 by workers who operate passport control centres at airports are likely to cause disruption to passengers.

Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow airports will be hit, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union says.

Extensive passport checks are carried out on arriving passengers, and if the queues get too long, they may be held on planes after they land, causing delays to departures.

Airlines have been urged by the Border Force to cancel up to 30 per cent of flights on strike days to prevent chaos at airports.

Queues soon grow when e-gates stop working. Christian Jones / Twitter.

But easyJet said it intended to run its full schedule because: “We want to take our customers on their planned trips at this important time of year."

Heathrow airport believes most travellers will be not be affected by the strike.

Passengers with British, EU, US, Canadian and some other passports will be able to use e-gates and, in theory, journeys should be largely unaffected on strike day.

But that relies on the machines not breaking down.

Sea ports

The only port affected by the Border Force strikes is Newhaven, East Sussex, from where ferry services operate to and from Dieppe, France.

A separate walkout in Kent affecting the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel would probably cause severe disruption.

Eurostar

Eurostar will run a revised timetable between Tuesday and Saturday as a knock-on effect of the RMT strike.

The operator is not affected by the PCS walkout, and does not anticipate its services will be hampered when RMT members, employed as security staff at London St Pancras International, go on strike over the next two weeks.

Domestic travel

Trains

Many parts of Britain will have no trains, including most of Scotland and Wales on strike days this week. EPA

Thousands of RMT members are going on strike on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Many parts of Britain will have no trains, including most of Scotland and Wales.

Disruption caused by ice and snow is also likely to cause further misery to passengers on strike days this week.

At best, services will start later and finish much earlier than usual, and trains will only run between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

RMT workers will also strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27.

Passengers travelling on Christmas Eve should try to complete their journeys by the time that industrial action begins.

Roads

The busiest days for getaway travel will be December 23 and Christmas Eve. PA

Drivers have been warned to expect long traffic jams on major routes in the run-up to Christmas.

The busiest days for getaway travel will be December 23 and Christmas Eve, which will both have nearly 17 million cars on UK roads, the Automobile Association estimated.

Potential congestion hotspots identified by the AA include the M25, the M5 between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, and the M6 around Birmingham.

Disruption from the rail strikes will mean more people deciding to drive.

“While December 23 and Christmas Eve look set to be the busiest travelling days, planned industrial action by rail staff may lead to increased levels of cars on our roads,” AA president Edmund King said.

Members of the PCS who work at National Highways will take part in staggered strikes from December 16 to January 7.

National Highways, which is responsible for managing England’s motorways and major A-roads, does not expect the strikes to have a significant impact on the already busy traffic.

Shopping

The two busiest shopping days are expected to be Saturday, December 17, and Thursday, December 22. EPA

The two busiest shopping days are expected to be Saturday, December 17, and Thursday, December 22. Another surge in shopping is expected on Friday, December 23.

“Many consumers [are] more comfortable shopping in stores compared to the 2021 Christmas shopping season,” said Ted Waddington, marketing manager at SwiftERM

Research by SwiftERM found many retailers have warned of stock shortages.

Mail

Workers at Royal Mail have been striking over pay, which could slow deliveries before Christmas.

The December strike dates are December 14, 15, 23 and 24.

On strike days, most mail will not be delivered except for special delivery mail and Covid tests.

Officially, December 19 is the last posting day for second-class mail to reach the destination before Christmas, and December 21 for first-class mail.

Updated: December 12, 2022, 11:14 PM
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