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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments