430,000 To Fly From Stansted This Christmas

As many as four million Britons will head overseas over the festive period, with those staying behind facing jammed roads and disrupted rail journeys.

Estimated by travel association Abta, the four million figure covers the period from Friday December 19 to Saturday January 3 and is slightly higher than the number going away for Christmas last year.

Heathrow is handling 16,700 departures this Friday, with nearly 700,000 passengers leaving from the west London airport between December 19 and Christmas Day.

Abta said that between December 19 and January 3 Gatwick airport would be handling 800,000 departures and Stansted 430,000. In addition around 380,000 will leave from Manchester and 160,000 from Birmingham.

Hundreds of thousands of people will also travel across the English Channel by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel, with 250,000 heading off on the high-speed trains of  Eurostar.

Abta said top winter sun destinations for Britons included the Canary Islands, Tunisia and Morocco, while top long-haul destinations included Dubai, Mexico, Cuba and Egypt.

Popular for New Year's Eve breaks are the cities of Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Dublin, while domestically Edinburgh and London lead the way.

In the period December 12 to January 5 British Airways will be carrying around 2.7 million passengers, with this Friday its busiest day, with 129,000 customers flying.

The BA schedules include 267 flights on Christmas Day on which 37,000 turkey dinners will be served.

Top BA destinations over the festive period are Dubai, Barbados, New York, Australia and Barcelona.

Ryanair is carrying more than 3.5 million customers between Saturday December 20 and January 6 - an increase of 500,000 customers over the 2013/14 holiday period.

Popular destinations include the Portuguese Algarve, the Canary Islands, Cologne and Prague.

Those travelling within Britain will have to contend with disruption caused by a £200 million engineering programme over the holiday period.

Although a lot of the work, being carried out by an army of 11,000 rail engineers, is being done on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, there will be major disruption on the West Coast main line due to work at Watford in Hertfordshire and between Stafford and Crewe.

The West Coast line will be shut between Euston station in London and Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire after the last trains on Christmas Eve until Monday December 29.

It will also be closed between Stafford and Crewe after the last trains on Christmas Eve until Sunday 28 December.

Also, work at Reading in Berkshire will mean restricted services in and out of Paddington station in London right through to January 5.

This Saturday sees the start of a 16-day part-closure of London Bridge station for work involving the £6.5 billion Thameslink programme.

From December 20 to Sunday January 4, Southern and Thameslink trains will not call at London Bridge and cross-London Thameslink Bedford-Brighton trains will not return until 2018.

Also, from next Monday until Christmas Eve some Southeastern Charing Cross services will not call at London Bridge in the morning peak.

The other piece of work that will extend beyond Boxing Day is at a spot just outside King's Cross in London. This will restrict services on Saturday December 27 and Sunday December 28.

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