1.5m head off for warmer and drier climes

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The Independent Online
FAMILIES LOOKING to escape a cold Christmas in Britain packed air and sea ports yesterday in a last-minute getaway that will see about 1.5 million people travelling abroad for the holiday season.

While airports were busy, many of the roads remained quiet, with the AA and the RAC predicting that the serious congestion was reserved for today. Heathrow airport is handling one million passengers this week, with New York and Amsterdam the top destinations for departing travellers. The Association of British Travel Agents said the 1.5 million people travelling abroad was about the same as last Christmas.

The ferry company Stena Line reported heavy bookings on its Harwich to the Hook of Holland service and its Wales-Ireland service between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire. Stena said it expected to carry more than 175,000 passengers during the festive season - many of them Irish nationals going home for Christmas.

Ferry services between Scotland and Northern Ireland were disrupted last night because of poor weather. A spokeswoman for P&O said its Jetliner service between Cairnryan and Larne had been cancelled.

Stena Line said its high-speed services between Stranraer and Belfast were also cancelled but that two conventional ferries would continue scheduled services overnight, weather permitting.

On the roads, most main roadworks have been suspended for the holiday period.

Any hopes of a white Christmas were dashed yesterday by forecasters who said that, with the exception of those living on Scottish mountains, the country will face rain and flooding rather than snow.

Given the expected conditions, bookmakers said last night that they had "virtually written off" the chance of a white Christmas.