Port strike threat to Easter break ends

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A strike at French ports that would have severely disrupted cross-Channel ferry services was called off as the great Easter getaway began in earnest.

French port control officers had been due to go on a 24-hour stoppage that would have hit ports such as Calais, Dieppe and Cherbourg.

P&O Ferries had warned its passengers to expect long delays today and on Good Friday and there were fears of traffic build-ups on routes to the port of Dover in Kent.

But at 2am the strike was called off after successful late-night talks in France.

“This is excellent news for British holidaymakers,” said P&O Ferries spokesman Chris Laming.

Those now able to travel freely by cross-Channel ferry will be among around 1.7 million Britons travelling abroad this Easter.

Many have snapped up last-minute offers to get away from one of the coldest March months on record.

Hotspots abroad for sun-starved Britons this Easter include the Canary Islands, Majorca, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. Top city break destinations are Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome and New York. France and Austria are the most-popular ski-destination countries.

From today until Tuesday, a total of 600,000 people will leave from Heathrow Airport, 214,000 from Gatwick, 110,000 from Manchester, 110,000 from Stansted and 55,000 from Luton.

Scottish airports will see more than 100,000 departures.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “After two wet summers and no end in sight to the winter, many Brits are desperate for some sunshine.

“We’ve seen a surge in last-minute bookings to warm destinations and ski lovers are also in for a treat with some of the best snow conditions seen for years.”

Those staying at home can expect temperatures to pick up slightly over the holiday period but they will be still be way below average for this time of year.

Those travelling by rail over Easter will have to contend with a number of engineering works, including major work at Reading in Berkshire and also work on the West Coast main line in the West Midlands.

On the roads, the Highways Agency has suspended roadworks for the Easter period on a number of England’s motorways and major A roads.

But for safety reasons, works remain in place on some busy routes, including the M1 near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

The AA reckons as many as 17 million cars will take to the roads over the holiday period, with the busiest periods expected to be this afternoon and Good Friday morning.

But the AA added that the roads may not be as busy as usual as the cold weather was likely to make this more of a “stay-at-home Easter”.

VisitEngland said around 6% of the adult population were planning a break in the UK involving at least one overnight stay this Easter.

These trips were likely to generate around £600 million for the UK economy.

On the railways today there were problems for passengers passing through Reading even before the engineering work was due to begin there.

This was caused by a broken-down train at nearby Maidenhead.

There were delays of up to 40 minutes between Reading and Paddington in London.

Another broken-down train in Sussex meant there were delays between Brighton and Lewes.

On the roads, the link in Manchester from the M602 J1 westbound to the M60 J12 was closed due to an overturned lorry.

On the M25 anti-clockwise between J27 and J26 in Essex there were delays due to a broken-down vehicle.

Breakdown service Green Flag said those taking to the roads were likely to make round-trips averaging 125 miles over the holiday period.

The company reckoned 10.30am on Saturday would be the peak time for congestion, with 10.30am on Good Friday also likely to be very busy.

It added that drivers were likely to spend around £360 million on fuel this Easter, a 145% increase on the Easter 2012 total.

Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) said an estimated 85,000 passengers were expected to travel from the Yorkshire airport over the Easter school holiday period.

Top hot-spots from LBA include Malaga and the Costa del Sol in Spain.

Holiday company Thomas Cook said it would be taking more than 28,000 holidaymakers abroad over Easter.

Favourite destinations include the Canary Islands, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey.