Sunny weather, the easing of Covid restrictions and the return of road traffic to pre-pandemic levels could combine to bring back traditional bank holiday jams in coastal areas, motoring organisations have said.
The RAC said that about 11m journeys could be made over the weekend, the start of the half-term holiday for most schools. The AA said it did “not expect travel chaos”, but in the first long weekend since the last easing of lockdown, traffic was likely to grow on peak routes.
Domestic holidays are broadly possible, albeit with limits on numbers and household mixing, after being largely ruled out during Easter.
The RAC said only about 11% of its drivers surveyed were not planning to take leisure trips this weekend due to the pandemic – compared with 18% for the first May bank holiday, and 25% over the Easter holiday last month.
Rules in England prohibited overnight stays in other people’s homes until 17 May, a date when more attractions opened and indoor hospitality was permitted again. In Wales, separate households still cannot share accommodation, while in England and Northern Ireland two households can do so, or up to three in Scotland.
Congestion is expected to be most likely on routes to the south-west and Wales. Highways England said it would lift almost 900 miles of roadworks over the bank holiday, meaning 98% of A roads and motorways would be free from roadworks. It advised that drivers aiming for quieter roads should travel on Friday, and mid-morning to mid-afternoon otherwise, with Saturday and Monday forecast to be the busiest days.
The getaway comes as private car use has all but returned to pre-pandemic levels, reaching 99% of 2019 levels last weekend, the highest figure since last September. While train passenger numbers have only climbed to about 45% of pre-pandemic numbers, according to Department for Transport figures, the recovery has been greater on long-distance and leisure rail routes, which face disruption over the bank holiday.
While rail industry leaders have said that coronavirus may mean that engineering work might one day be scheduled outside holiday periods, that ambition has yet to be realised. Network Rail, the operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure, urged passengers to check their journeys with several major routes affected by £80m worth of engineering works over the weekend.
The west coast mainline will have major delays, with no direct services between London and Liverpool or the capital and Scotland. Work in and around London King’s Cross station will mean fewer trains on the east coast line, while East Midlands trains will not run to London this weekend, with a reduced service north of Luton to the Midlands and South Yorkshire. No Southern trains will run from London Victoria, and there will be some disruption to train services around Leeds, Norwich and Guildford.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Essential maintenance and upgrade work is always planned for times that minimise disruption for passengers as much as possible, traditionally meaning holidays and weekends.
“Travel patterns have obviously shifted over the past year and we will carefully monitor how this evolves as restrictions ease and people return to workplaces. Our approach to scheduling works will be based on this longer-term picture.”
Despite restrictions on most international destinations and continued testing requirements, leisure airlines and airports are expecting their busiest period since last summer. Only Portugal, among bigger holiday destinations, is on the UK’s green list of countries allowing quarantine-free travel.
Gatwick airport said it would operate between 110 and 130 flights daily over the weekend, about half to domestic UK destinations and Portugal, with Spain dominant among amber-list countries, from where travellers must isolate on return. EasyJet said the numbers of passengers flying domestically or to Portugal next week outstripped all amber list flights.