Fog casts shroud over Christmas getaway

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The Independent Online

Dense fog and icy conditions brought misery yesterday to Christmas travellers hoping to make it home for the festive season.

Thousands of airline passengers were left stranded as 84 flights from Heathrow and Gatwick were cancelled due to poor visibility. Motorists were also caught out by the weather, stranded in miles of tailbacks as the fog and ice brought chaos to the road network. The Highways Agency issued a statement urging people not to travel.

At Heathrow, where 69 flights were cancelled, many people were forced to rebook for today. Airlines offered a choice of alternative flights or refunds. A spokesman for Heathrow said: "We have had around 181,000 passengers through today which is about average for this time.

"We understand the fog will clear and expect to comfortably absorb the over-spilling passengers."

In some areas of the country visibility had dropped to 50 metres by yesterday afternoon. The bad weather comes as a record 3.5 million Britons are choosing to spend Christmas abroad with the Canary Islands proving the most-popular destination for sunseekers.

Egypt, Goa and Dubai are also popular, while many skiers are heading for the slopes in France, Austria and Italy. The Association of British Travel Agents said the busiest day for overseas travel will be today, followed by 30 December when people head off for New Year's Eve celebrations abroad. While ferry companies reported no delays, Trafficmaster said the roads had become busy, with fog causing most of the disruption. A spokesman said roads in the east Midlands, the north of England and Scotland had been the worst affected. Crashes were reported across the motorway network last night including on the M25, M3, M5 and M6. The Highways Agency said fog signs went up on all major roads and urged people to travel only if absolutely necessary. "People should consider delaying their journey until the weather improves," a spokesman said. The Met Office confirmed that the fog was some of the thickest this year but added that conditions were not serious enough to warrant a "severe weather warning".

Steve Randall, a Met Office forecaster, said: "It has been quite foggy today and very dense in places but for a "severe" warning there must visibility below 50 meters across counties and we haven't seen that so far.

"We are expecting the fog to continue through the night and lift through the morning."

Temperatures today are expected to rise to 9C in the South and fall to just above freezing this evening.