The Great Escape: Busiest travel weekend of the year so far gets off to shaky start

In the build-up to Easter, the travel industry has talked up the number of British travellers seeking sun abroad after the coldest March in 50 years
  • @SimonCalder

The busiest travel weekend of the year so far got off to a shaky start on Good Friday morning – mainly with passengers finding themselves out of position.

Bleary-eyed passengers on a Monarch flight from Tenerife touched down at Gatwick at dawn, six hours late. The British Airways arrival from Bermuda was due to land at about the same time, but had not even taken off from the Atlantic island. It was expected to arrive 12 hours late. A BA holiday flight to Malaga was delayed by four hours, while some passengers on easyJet also experienced problems at Gatwick.

Heathrow airport was quieter than normal because few business travellers were passing through. Even so, Virgin Atlantic passengers to New York and Miami were delayed by several hours, while the inbound flight from San Francisco was over five hours late.

A British Airways flight from Singapore to London, due to arrive at dawn on Saturday, is running 15 hours late.

Passengers flying on Ryanair between the UK and various provincial cities in Poland faced disruption. Poor weather in Lodz, Lublin and Rzeszow led to several flights being diverted or cancelled.

Manchester airport had been singled out by easyJet as a location where passengers could expect long waits in the security queue. In the event, the airport was calm - though a Thomas Cook flight to Antalya in Turkey was delayed by five hours.

In the build-up to Easter, the travel industry had talked up the number of British travellers seeking sun abroad after the coldest March in 50 years.

Some destinations, such as the Canary Islands, are extremely heavily booked; easyJet’s last seat between Gatwick and Tenerife for Easter Saturday was on sale for £505, one way. Fares for immediate departures to Dubai and Orlando in Florida are also high – typically £1,000 for flights on Easter Saturday, returning a week later.

Yet among the package-holiday companies, there are bargains to be had. Thomson is selling a week on the Spanish island of Mallorca, half-board, for under £400 for departures from Manchester or Newcastle on Saturday.

After the Easter weekend, the best bargains are for holidays in Cyprus. Thomas Cook is selling a week’s self-catering in the resort of Ayia Napa for £313, including flights from Manchester.

Thousands of rail passengers between London, the West of England and South Wales faced protracted journeys due to the closure of the main line through Reading station. The weekend closure has seen timetables rewritten with trains taking circuitous routes around the blockage. But passengers on the link between Paddington, Bristol and Cardiff were delayed still further when a train broke down on the main diversion route between Oxford and Banbury.

East Coast main-line passengers encountered delays of an hour or more due to a suspected broken rail Thirsk, affecting services between York and Darlington. At Stamford in Lincolnshire, a broken-down freight train disrupted travel between Leicester and Peterborough,

On the English Channel, ferries are operating normally after the threat of a harbourmasters’ strike at French ports was lifted.