Christmas flightmare: The key high-pressure dates at airports

Exclusive: Friday 21 December is the biggest bulge for Christmas departures, with returning holidaymakers peaking on 6 January

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 24 November 2018 10:41
The key dates and rules for flyers this Christmas

Friday 21 December will be the busiest day of the winter at most of Britain’s top airports: that is the conclusion from an exclusive survey by The Independent.

Five of the top eight airports – Heathrow, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Glasgow – predict the last working day for many people will also be the busiest for travellers.

Well over 100,000 passengers will fly out of the UK’s biggest airport, Heathrow – at a rate of 100 per minute.

At Gatwick and Stansted, Sunday 23 December will be the busiest date, while only at Luton is the highest-pressure day after Christmas: the peak is on 28 December.

The festive getaway looks like stretching longer than ever, too, with the peak arrivals day for London’s main holiday airports – Gatwick, Luton and Stansted – not until 6 January 2019.

Birmingham and Glasgow predict the same date will have the longest lines for passport control as holidaymakers head home.

Heathrow airport’s busiest homecoming day will be 2 January. Manchester and Edinburgh both have peak arrivals before the New Year: Manchester on 21 December, which will include many British expatriates returning home for Christmas, and Edinburgh on 28 December as the crowds touch down for the Hogmanay street party.

The eight airports are those in the class handling 10 million or more passengers a year.

Almost all the airports are predicting record crowds for Christmas and New Year, with both Luton and Edinburgh preparing for a 12 per cent increase over the same spell a year ago.

Gatwick airport, which has just reported a rolling annual total of 46 million passengers, expects 7.7 per cent more travellers than a year ago.

Europe’s biggest budget airline, Ryanair, said Saturday 22 December will be its busiest, with almost 400,000 passengers. In common with other low-cost carriers, it does not fly on Christmas Day.

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But Birmingham airport says it will handle 41 per cent more passengers on Christmas Day than it did in 2017, with over 11,000 passengers passing through. On New Year’s Day it will handle almost 26,000, 11 per cent up on 1 January 2018.

The most popular destinations vary sharply between airports; for the Scottish hubs, London is the main target. But Amsterdam, Dublin and Dubai make frequent appearances in the top five.

All of them have flights from all eight airports, except that Luton does not have a link with Dubai.

In Heathrow’s top five, New York and Hong Kong also feature. From Gatwick, Barcelona and Geneva stand out. And from Manchester, the other key destinations are Tenerife and Paris.

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