The British Airport Authority estimates that in the week from 21 to 27 December, 1,365,000 people will board flights at its seven airports, desperate to avoid the TV repeats and another year of Delia Smith cookbook Christmas dinners. Heathrow is expecting to handle more than 800,000 passengers, Gatwick about 360,000. With many businesses closing for the whole week, the biggest delays will be on Saturday, 21 December, when airports will be jammed with holidaymakers attempting to make an early escape. Even on Christmas Day more than 40,000 people will pass through Heathrow.
Sarah Garland, a spokes-woman for the leading independent travel specialist STA Travel, said that tickets were sold out for many long-haul destinations including Hong Kong, which this year will celebrate New Year for the last time as a British colony; Bombay, a gateway for the booming beach resorts of Goa; Argentina, Auckland and Johannesburg.
Lyla Smith, consumer affairs manager for Thomson Holidays, said it would have more than 100,000 customers dotted around the world this Christmas, and that the market for winter holidays had jumped 20 per cent since last year.
Thomson also reported strong demand for long-haul destinations, with package-holidaymakers choosing Florida, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Barbados - where Delia Smith will be holidaying, apparentlyhaving refused all offers to perform her now-legendary 24-hour countdown to Christmas dinner - and Goa. Benidorm, the Canary Islands and the Costa del Sol will also be bustling.
Before you despair, there are seats available to some of the world's least likely Christmas destinations. You could get to Iran for pounds 399 return, but remember it is illegal to consume alcohol there. Or head to Russia, which celebrates Christmas on 7 January. Trouble is, the culinary treats may have you yearning for Christmas with Delia.
The price of holidays could jump by a quarter if a fair trading inquiry into holiday company practices finds evidence of anti-consumer activity, some of Britain's leading package-tour firms have warned. An investigation was ordered last week by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the links between major operators and the main high-street travel agencies. Yesterday, officials at Airtours and Thomson warned that any limit on their activities would mean an end to discounts and special offers linked to the purchase of travel insurance.
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