Holiday exodus starts with rush

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The Independent Online
The Easter exodus began yesterday with more than 1.5 million people expected to leave Britain for a holiday abroad. Airports and ports were at full stretch to deal with the surge of passengers.

In much of the country, the Bank Holiday rush started yesterday at lunchtime, with many people taking the afternoon off to get a head start on the roads.

Motoring organisations said yesterday was more like Friday evening on the roads, with most routes out of London and other cities jammed with vehicles.

Traffic queues were expected, despite the Highways Agency suspending some of its roadworks.

Roadworks on the M4 leaving from London, one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, could not be suspended and long delays were building yesterday.

The Highways Agency had a clear message: "Plan ahead and be calm."

With the weather forecast to be fair, particularly in southern England, both the AA and the RAC predicted weekend congestion on routes to major attractions and to the coast.

An RAC spokesman said: "We had 20 miles of queues on the M6 near Birmingham at lunchtime and also heavy congestion on the M25 west of London."

The AA said: "Most major routes out of London were busy by midday and we're expecting day trippers to be out in force over the weekend."

Heathrow airport had its busiest day over the holiday period yesterday - with 90,000 passengers leaving for foreign climes.

UK airports are expected to handle about 900,000 passengers over the Easter period.

A total of 1.2 million passengers will pass through Heathrow during the period from last Wednesday to Easter Tuesday - 42,000 more than last year.

The main ferry operators expect 350,000 people to travel to the Continent.

Eurotunnel is hoping to take as many as 110,000 passengers through the Channel Tunnel on Le Shuttle trains - 10 per cent more than Easter last year.

Eurostar is expecting to carry about 80,000 passengers over the holiday period.

Heathrow reported that New York and Paris are the two most popular destinations for its passengers this Easter.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents, people leaving Britain in search of sun are mainly making for the Canary Islands and Majorca, while those travelling further afield are taking breaks of up to 10 days in Florida or the Caribbean.

Top city-break destinations include Paris, Dublin, Prague, Madrid and Amsterdam.

The London Weather Centre said southern and south-west England and south Wales would get the best of the holiday weather.

While the north will be cool and slightly overcast to start with, southern areas will be dry and mainly sunny, with temperatures ranging from 13C (55F) today to 16C (61F) on Easter Monday.

One destination not at the top of Britons' holiday lists this Easter is Jerusalem.

A joint Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian advertising blitz to draw Easter pilgrims has failed to resurrect the Holy Land's slumping tourist industry, which is down 15 to 18 per cent during this season.

In Jerusalem's Old City, Arab merchants are feeling the pinch, while their main wares - inflatable Yasser Arafat dolls - are wilting in the heat.