Simon Calder: Flown from the freeze? You’re one in a million

Are you reading this on the beach or on a ski lift? At 35,000 feet or 186mph? If so, congratulations. You have already made your escape from a nation that, according to the forecasters, is set for the opposite of sun, sand and sea: expect snow, sub-zero temperatures and seizing up.

I estimate you are one in a million; from a week of phoning around the country's transport operators, that seems the likely number of Brits who have already left the country to celebrate Christmas in a location where midwinter may be a touch less bleak and where de-icing fluid constitutes a tasty-if-lurid cocktail rather than a chemical compound.

In a normal year, 18 December would represent little more than an overture, marking the start of a great getaway that builds to a travel crescendo two or three days before Christmas Day. But the fact that 25 December and New Year's Day are both Saturdays has distorted travel patterns through the festive break.

The skiing market is in some disarray due to 25 December and 1 January falling on the main "changeover day", Saturday. And it appears that many families have seized the chance to grab a pre-Christmas week away. At some of Britain's top airports, and on international trains from London St Pancras to Paris and Brussels, the biggest crush of the season ... has already happened. Friday, 17 December was the day of the greatest escape.

Where I live, the schools broke up yesterday afternoon. But judging from the figures provided from sources as diverse as BAA, Eurostar and easyJet, there must have had a good few empty desks: even allowing for yesterday's cancellations at Heathrow, 200 passengers per minute were booked to pass through Britain's busiest airport during its operating hours.

That still leaves a good three million of us who have plans to travel abroad over the festive season. Tell me which escape route you are using, and I shall predict when you are likely to leave – and return.

Unlike forecasts of road traffic and rail passengers, airlines and airports know to a high degree of certainty how many travellers are likely to fly in and out.

Today Heathrow and Gatwick will be full of Virgin Atlantic and British Airways long-haul passengers waiting anxiously for de-icing (for the aircraft, not for themselves). But other airlines have different peaks: Monarch planes are busiest on Thursday 23 December. The airline expects another surge a week later; on 30 December, people coming home from Christmas away will swap places with those resolving to start the New Year as they plan to continue, ie on holiday (well, that's my intention, at least).

Going to Gatwick tomorrow? You won't be alone, since 19 December is set to be the Sussex airport's busiest day this month.

Many other airports are available, which is a blessed relief to all of us. Edinburgh and Glasgow were expecting their maximum passengers yesterday, weather permitting – a phrase that has attached itself like a snow chain to Scotland this month. Manchester hits a peak on Wednesday 22 December, with a winter sports-related spike (or should that be a ski pole?) predicted for Boxing Day. Luton, Birmingham and Cardiff airports expect bumper bookings on 27 December.

Even Christmas Day is looking lively at Heathrow and Gatwick, which will process precisely a Wembley Stadium-full of passengers: 90,000 in total. Heathrow is the only UK location with a scheduled train service on 25 December (half-hourly from Terminals 1 and 3 to 4 and 5, free).

My tip for 25 December: enjoy the wide, open spaces of Stansted. The Essex airport anticipates only 2,000 passengers all day – on its busiest day, next Thursday, that's a mere 40 minutes' worth.

New Year's leave

Talking to airports and airlines, it seems as though an air-traffic map of Britain on 2 January will resemble a particularly scary video game, with everything converging on the UK at once. Almost every airport expects it to be their busiest day of the season.

The day after New Year looks like a hangover for everyone. Airport and airline staff will be at full stretch, while passengers expecting short lines for passport control and their bags already waiting on the carousel may be disappointed. The crush is likely to be most intense at Heathrow and Gatwick early that Sunday morning: Virgin and BA long-haul flights from the world's sunniest spots are going to be rammed.

You can't say quite the same about Britain's offices, factories and classrooms the following week. Virgin Atlantic reports that the following weekend, 7 and 8 January, is almost as busy as 2 January – suggesting many of you have cancelled the milk for a long-haul escape of two or three weeks. Good call.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower