Airports gridlocked, road and rail delays: Britain closes for Easter

Passengers queue at check-in desks at Heathrow
Passengers queue at check-in desks at Heathrow
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AIRLINES have warned the Home Secretary that Britain “risks gridlock” at airports over the Easter break due to staff shortages.

British Airways and Virgin Airlines are among 11 firms that have written to Theresa May in anticipation of “unacceptable” delays to hundreds of thousands of passengers travelling over the long weekend.

The UK Border Agency is under fire for a lack of staff able to carry out full security checks, which the airlines say must result in a recruitment drive or the relaxing of some of the more stringent measures currently in place.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Airlines said: “While the decision on what level of check should be made at the border is, of course, a matter for Government, we are concerned that there is currently a mismatch between policy and resource.

“After years of reducing frontline staff, returning to a 100% check system will undoubtedly mean lengthy queues at UK airports over critical holiday periods such as Easter and the Diamond Jubilee.

“If the Government wishes to continue with this policy, it must put the resource in place to make it possible or we risk gridlock at our busiest airports at a time when we hope to be welcoming millions to the UK.”

More than 370,000 passengers will leave Heathrow airport between Good Friday and Easter Monday, and 200,000 will pass through Gatwick.

A spokesman for Heathrow owner BAA said: “Immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow are currently unacceptable and we have called on the UK Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency.

“There isn’t a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience. UK Border Force should be delivering both.”

Meanwhile, Britons attempting to travel by rail and road face delays because of engineering works taking place on motorways and train lines.

Stretches of the M1 and M25 will be affected, and the seven million passengers travelling by train over the weekend will see disruption to travel to and from Euston, King’s Cross, Liverpool Street, and Waterloo stations in London.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) and Network Rail said there were 34% fewer replacement buses for cancelled trains this Easter compared with the same period last year.

A Border Force spokeswoman said: “We will not compromise border security, but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand.

“Carrying out full checks at airports help us stop threats from terrorists, criminals and others who want to harm the UK and make sure that only those with the right to enter the UK can do so.”

Travel organisation Abta said that around 1.5 million people would be heading abroad for Easter.

Spain is the favourite holiday destination for Britons travelling overseas, with Cyprus and Tunisia also selling well.

Top city breaks are Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome and New York, with skiers heading for Geneva.

Over Easter (Good Friday to Easter Monday) 105,000 will leave from Manchester airport; 100,000 from Stansted airport; 65,000 from Luton; 55,000 from Edinburgh and 45,000 from Birmingham.

Also, 85,000 will travel abroad with Channel Tunnel high-speed train company Eurostar.

The Highways Agency said roadworks at 272 English locations would be completed ahead of the bank holiday weekend, with 15 sets of roadworks and lane restrictions suspended.

The suspensions will last from 6am tomorrow until midnight on Easter Monday, April 9.

Sites where roadworks will remain for safety reasons include 22 miles of the M1 near Luton in Bedfordshire, an 11-mile stretch of the M25 near St Albans in Hertfordshire, 11 miles of the M4 near west London, and 23 miles of the M62 near Leeds.

The Highways Agency said tomorrow evening and Easter Monday afternoon are likely to be the busiest over the bank holiday weekend, especially on the main holiday routes, as people set out and return from short breaks or day trips.

Traffic information company Inrix said motorists heading for the West Country were likely to face the worst delays, with drivers on the M1 around Luton in Bedfordshire also expected to face hold-ups.

The company expected traffic near Alton Towers in Staffordshire and Thorpe Park in Surrey to be particularly busy.

A survey of 5,000 parents by hotel chain Travelodge showed that, on average, mothers and fathers would be forking out £176.81 to keep their children entertained this Easter, compared with £387.86 last Easter.

The poll showed parents were more likely this Easter to take children on inexpensive trips to the countryside, seaside and museums, and to visit family and friends.

Travelodge said the most popular Easter break destinations include Blackpool, the Lake District and London.

MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said the snow which hit Scotland yesterday could affect northern England, Wales and parts of the Midlands today.

Other areas, including south east England, are likely to see the first rain for some time today, with heavy bursts in some places.

Tomorrow is expected to be drier, with temperatures going up to 11C (52F), but there could be some rain and drizzle on Good Friday, with temperatures around 13C (55F).

Easter Saturday is likely to see some rain in northern and western areas, with Easter Sunday being cloudy with rain and drizzle in places.

Although there could be showers and breezy weather on Easter Monday, temperatures could go as high as 15C (59F).

The AA said that up to 54% of its members were likely to drive somewhere this Easter.

AA patrolman of the year Keith Miller said: “After a chaotic week, fuel supplies to forecourts are returning to near-normal levels, so drivers should have no concerns about heading off for Easter.

“People should just refuel as normal, keeping at least a quarter of a tank in their car in case of traffic delays or if they’re travelling in an unfamiliar area.”

Transport company National Express said tomorrow would be the busiest day for coach travel, with today being the most popular date for travelling to an airport.

The company added that London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds were its most popular destinations.

Breakdown service Green Flag said around £145 million will be spent on fuel by those taking to the road over Easter.

The average distance travelled by those making road trips is about 90 miles, with Londoners doing the least miles (80.9) and Scots the most (111.8).

Green Flag said the busiest departure time was likely to be 10.30am on Good Friday.