Jams, strikes and engineering work add up to an Easter holiday bunfight

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Rex</span>
Photograph: Rex

With the approach of the Easter holiday weekend comes the time-honoured question, immortalised by the Clash: should I stay or should I go? To which the answer has long been – how about neither?

Those who choose to holiday in rainy Britain will be grappling with record traffic jams or a semi-functioning railway handily axed at its London roots by seasonal engineering works. Trips abroad must be navigated via strikes at Heathrow, and whatever French air traffic controllers decide to do (hint: strike). Home or away, the cost of travel and accommodation has surged.

The good news, for holidaymakers and businesses that cater for them, is that the logistics are looking better than last Easter, when there appeared to be no easy way to flee these islands. However, despite P&O Ferries being back and sailing – after the pause in 2022 for it to illegally fire all its crew and employ cheap foreign labour on short-term contracts – those opting to leave the country via the Port of Dover quickly ran into another traffic jam on Friday, with coach traffic facing “significant delays”.

P&amp;O’s Pride of Canterbury ferry in dock
P&O’s Pride of Canterbury ferry docked at Dover last Easter as all services were halted. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, airlines and airports believe they have, by and large, managed to recruit enough people on slightly better pay to get their booked passengers away, after the rude awakening of last Easter, when staff shortages led to huge queues, delays and widespread cancellations


Flight numbers are returning to pre-Covid levels as the recovery continues for airlines. In total about 44,000 flights will take off from UK airports over this two-week school holiday period, potentially carrying up to 8 million passengers, with Dublin, Amsterdam, Málaga, Palma and Alicante the most popular destinations.

Easter weekend will be about 12% busier than last year, but still 12% down on 2019 figures, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. EasyJet, which will operate more than 20% of those flights, has said it expects flying to be back at pre-pandemic levels by the summer months.

Those who hoped to travel by train between London, Birmingham and Manchester will find the west coast mainline closed at Milton Keynes for engineering work

So airports are only going to get busier. Heathrow has more or less ruled out imposing any kind of capacity cap – as it did last summer, with a 100,000-passengers-a-day limit. But it has “invited” airlines to stop selling flights for the Easter period as it rides out a strike by security staff, and has made British Airways cancel about 5% of its flights from Terminal 5, which is in the eye of the industrial storm.

Unions say disruption is inevitable if Heathrow doesn’t increase its pay offer, but as the strike got under way this weekend, the airport seemed to be winning. Boss John Holland-Kaye, who is soon destined for the exit and recently sported the kind of purple company polo shirt that reminds you why chief executives wear suits, told TV cameras that the everyday airport hell behind him was Heathrow “running entirely as normal”.

Airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet appear to be more worried about France, where air traffic controllers are reportedly ready to walk out daily throughout April, with as little as 24 hours’ notice.

So, home it is. According to VisitEngland, 6.5 million Brits are planning an overnight trip in the UK over the Easter weekend, with about half that number again still pondering whether to take their chances with weather, traffic and trains.

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Next Saturday will be the busiest day, with 8 million leisure drivers on the roads, according to the AA. Rail strikes, at least, have been paused, although those who hoped to travel between London, Birmingham and Manchester over Easter will find the west coast mainline closed at Milton Keynes for engineering work.

That might spare more scrutiny of FirstGroup and its intercity Avanti service, which remains under threat of renationalisation for poor performance along with sister operator TransPennine, the scale of whose daily sneak cancellations were recently exposed again by the rail regulator.

Nonetheless, be it train, boat or plane, transport firms’ profit forecasts are up as they trust in the public’s inability to sit quietly in a room with the heating off, rather than hit the M6 or book a Ryanair flight. As sure as eggs is eggs, we’ll sally out again.