Millions face travel chaos today as the great Christmas getaway begins

Drivers have been warned to set off early on Christmas journeys to avoid festive traffic jams with millions of people set to hit the road on Saturday. 

The RAC advised motorists to head off late tonight or early on Saturday morning and warned of delays of up to two hours on some routes. 

More than 2million people are expected to hit the roads to spend the festive period with friends and family after finishing work on Friday. 

Travel chaos on Friday was worsened by the ongoing drone mayhem at Gatwick Airport, where the runway was again shut for more than an hour on Friday night.  

Motorists queue on the M25 near the M3 for the Christmas getaway at Egham in Surrey today

Traffic building up on the A14 near Cambridge as people start their Christmas getaway today

Matt Dallaway of the RAC advised drivers to avoid peak times on busy roads, The Sun reported. 

He said: ‘Plan your journey, everyone is a hurry to see their loved ones and friends and family, but please think about when you’re going to travel. 

‘Right now until about 6pm tonight it’s going to be quite busy out there so if you can avoid that, do that – go later or early in the morning.’  

Airports will have a spike in demand, although the plans of tens of thousands of people have been thrown into disarray after Gatwick’s runway was shut due to drone activity on Wednesday night. 

Trains will also be busier than normal as passengers complete journeys before parts of the network are shut down for Christmas engineering work.

Passengers at London Waterloo railway station begin their festive getaways this morning

Five people were injured in a four-vehicle pile up on the M60 in Greater Manchester today

A major crash this morning saw five people have been injured in a four-vehicle pile-up on the M60 near Stretford in Greater Manchester at about 9.20am.

Police, firefighters and paramedics were called to the collision near junction seven, and Highways England closed the main carriageway between junctions six and eight.

A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said: ‘Four patients have minor injuries and one patient has got a serious head injury.

‘The patient with a head injury, a man aged in his mid-fifties, was trapped in the vehicle. He has been taken to hospital.’ 

Some 59 per cent of UK drivers will take to main roads or motorways today, according to an AA poll of 20,000 motorists.

The breakdown recovery firm warned of queues on major routes and urged people to check traffic reports before setting off. 

Six lanes of traffic snake along the A14 near Cambridge today as the getaway continues 

Traffic queues on the left to join the M32 motorway and head out of Bristol this afternoon

The getaway begins as motorists battle though the Christmas traffic on the M5 in Bristol today

Passengers at London Paddington train station begin their festive getaway journeys today

Passengers wait for train information at London Paddington as the mass exodus begins today

Research by the RAC and traffic information firm Inrix suggested the M25, M6 and M40 will be the worst traffic hotspots.

Drivers travelling on the southbound M40 from the M42 (Warwickshire) to Junction 8A (Oxford) should expect delays of up to one hour and 50 minutes. 

Highways England said it would lift more than 200 miles of roadworks on the country’s motorways and major A-roads by 6am today.

This is to ensure more than 97 per cent of the network is open for the festive getaway.

The RAC’s Mark Souster urged motorists to carry out basic maintenance checks on their cars – such as oil, coolant and screenwash levels and tyre condition – before setting off.

He said: ‘It’s vitally important every driver planning a trip gives their car a once-over to make sure it’s up to the job.

‘A single breakdown can bring some roads to a grinding halt, slowing down the Christmas getaway for all of us.’

The anticipated jams will be compounded by extensive disruption to the rail network, with planned engineering work and strikes forcing more people on to the roads over the festive period.

Strikes are likely to affect routes run by Northern Rail and South Western Railway, while Network Rail is planning extensive engineering work on lines running into major stations such as London Paddington and London Victoria.

Network Rail is planning extensive engineering work across Britain between Sunday and January 1, with a 25,000-strong workforce carrying out 330 projects. 

As usual, there will be no trains on Christmas Day and a limited service will run on Boxing Day.  

A fire at a substation near Ashford International station in Kent last night caused severe disruption as Network Rail had to evacuate a signalling centre.

Some lines have reopened but Southeastern services are expected to be disrupted until 5pm. Cross-Channel Eurostar trains have also been affected.

Travel trade organisation Abta expects more than 4.7 million people to head abroad from the UK between December 18 and January 2, with today the busiest travel day.

Passengers wait to check in at London Gatwick Airport as disruption continues this morning

TODAY 2.8million 11.30am to 6pm After 7.30pm M40 south from M42 Warwickshire to J8A (Oxford). Up to 110 minute delay
TOMORROW  2.2million 10.30am to 4pm Before 9.30am or after 7.30pm M40 north from J8A (Oxford) to M42 Warwickshire. Up to 61 minute delay
SUNDAY 1.9million 4pm to 6.30pm Before 11am or after 8pm
CHRISTMAS EVE  2.5million 11am to 1pm At other times M1 north J21 (Coventry/Leicester) to J26 (Nottingham/Ripley). Up to 22 minute delay
West Midlands M40 South (M42) to J8A (Aylesbury) 2.30pm 157 110
West Midlands M40 North J8A (Aylesbury) to M42 12pm 84 35
West Midlands M6 South J20 (Macclesfield) to J16 (Newcastle-under-Lyme) 5.15pm 58 33
West Midlands M5 North J4A M42 to Ray Hall interchange 7.45pm 39 21
Scotland M8 West J12 (Riddrie) to J29 (Paisley) 12.15pm 21 8
West Midlands M40 North J8A (Aylesbury) to M42 5.45pm 105 61
West Midlands M6 North J15 (Stoke-on-Trent) to J25 (Wigan) 7.15am 104 59
South West England A303 West Salisbury Road to A350 2.45pm 46 19
West Midlands M6 South J20 (Macclesfield) to J16 (Newcastle-under-Lyme) 12.30pm 43 18
West Midlands M5 North J4A (M42) to Ray Hall interchange 6pm 31 14

Passengers try to check in for their pre-Christmas flights at Gatwick Airport this morning

Winter sun lovers are heading short haul to Alicante, the Canary Islands and Egypt, while Dubai and India are among the most popular long haul destinations.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: ‘Christmas and New Year are always very busy times for the travel industry as people head off to spend their well-earned holidays with family and friends.

‘Whether holidaymakers are flying away for some winter sun, travelling to a snowy destination or staying closer to home, this year’s festive break looks set to be another busy one.

‘It’s important people allow extra time for their journeys and check ahead for any disruption if travelling by public transport.’

Military equipment used as Gatwick Airport reopens after drone chaos

Military equipment is being used to stop further drone disruption at Gatwick Airport as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted passengers are safe despite the operator not being caught.

The runway reopened for a limited number of flights at 6am today after being shut down on Wednesday night due to drones flying inside its perimeter.

Police were engaged in a cat and mouse hunt for the perpetrator yesterday, but said ‘each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears’.

Passengers stranded at Gatwick Airport yesterday after it closed due to drone sightings

Mr Grayling said there had been around 40 sightings of what were thought to be a ‘small number of drones’ while the West Sussex airport was closed.

He would not give details of what measures had been put in place, but told BBC Breakfast some of them were ‘military capabilities’, adding: ‘There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly.’

More than 120,000 passengers were unable to either take off or land at the airport on Wednesday night and yesterday.

A further 126,000 are due to travel today, but 145 out of the scheduled 837 flights have already been cancelled as aircraft are out of position and the airport’s operations are restricted to just a few departures and arrivals per hour.

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