Thousands head for the sun: Nearly 400,000 fly out from London airports

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS of thousands of Britons began heading for the sun last night to escape gloomy skies over the Easter weekend.

An estimated 150,000 passengers set off from Heathrow, the airport's busiest Easter 24-hours to date. More than 230,000 holiday-makers left from Gatwick, the highest daily figure this year.

The Association of British Travel Agents said 350,000 people were taking package holidays. 'The sheer volume of people travelling this Easter shows the increasing number of holiday-makers who are taking advantage of extended weekends to have a break from the recession,' Michael Grindrod, president of Abta, said.

The most popular destinations were the Canaries, Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Benidorm, the Costa del Sol, Amsterdam, Paris and Copenhagen. Florida was also popular.

Two hours after the lunchtime rush began on the roads, tailbacks had built up on several main routes. The AA reported a six-mile jam on the north-bound A34, heading into Newbury, Berkshire. There was a four-mile tailback on the A303 approaching Stonehenge in Wiltshire and long queues on the M6 and M56 in the North. Other blackspots were the A483 and A458 at Powys in Wales and the M4 near the Avon-Wales border, the M5 at the interchange with the M4, the M20 in Kent and the M25.

Lunn Poly, the travel agent, said York, Chester, Bath, the Lake District, the Cotswolds and Edinburgh were the most popular British destinations.

The London Weather Centre said it would be 'fairly unsettled' over most of the UK during the holiday period. Today is expected to be the wettest day, with heavy rain in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Showers are forecast for Saturday. Bright spells are expected in the North on Sunday and Monday.

The gloomy forecast has raised the hopes of do-it-yourself stores, which expect to sell one million litres of white paint over the Easter weekend.

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