Holidaymakers trying to get away for the Easter weekend have been warned they are likely to face disruption whether travelling by air, rail, road or sea.
Staff sickness and a shortage of workers have already caused multiple days of chaos for air passengers, with carriers cancelling dozens of flights at short notice, while ferry operators have struggled to meet demand as P&O Ferries services remain suspended.
Travellers have been told they face delays over the bank holiday weekend, and may even have difficulties reaching their destination, regardless of how they travel, amid widespread closures to the rail network and predictions of “huge surges” of vehicles on motorways.
The Easter weekend is the first public holiday since the lifting of almost all Covid travel restrictions, and traditionally signifies the start of the busier spring and summer season.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said in a BBC interview it would be “extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports, particularly at Dover”.
Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain’s railways, has advised passengers to travel either side of the long weekend because it is closing parts of the system to carry out engineering works.
Trains running on the west coast main line, which links London to Scotland, will start and finish at Milton Keynes between Friday 15 and Monday 18 April, while Euston station in north London will also be closed.
Parts of the railway between Birmingham International station and Coventry will also be closed, as will lines around Crewe station.
The railway closures will affect tens of thousands of Liverpool and Manchester City football fans travelling to Wembley stadium in London to watch their teams compete in the FA Cup semi-final. A crowd of 90,000 is expected, but the FA has advised ticketholders not to take the train from the north-west.
The Football Association said it was chartering 100 buses from Anfield and the Etihad Stadium to transport up to 5,000 supporters from each club . An spokesperson said approximately 2,000 seats were still available on buses for Liverpool supporters.
The chair of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, recently told MPs on parliament’s transport select committee that the FA had scheduled the men and women’s fixtures in the capital, despite ample warning of railway closures.
“Network Rail told the FA in 2019 that we were closing the west coast main line, yet they seem to have arranged a football match between Manchester and Liverpool at Wembley on a day when we have effectively given the world two years’ notice of the closure,” Hendy said.
Airline passengers have faced lengthy queues in terminals to clear security in recent weeks, while thousands of travellers flying from Manchester airport missed their flights as a result. It came after the surge in passengers coincided with high rates of staff off work with Covid, and a wider shortage of workers after many were laid off during the pandemic.
Manchester airport has warned passengers they will continue to wait for up to 90 minutes to get through security, while there is also some disruption expected for those flying from Birmingham, as well as Heathrow and Gatwick.
“I would be surprised if there are not further difficulties,” said Wayne King, the regional coordinating officer at Unite union. “Any time that there are school holidays, this will peak because there are just not going to be the staff.”
Shapps said he was concerned that airlines and airport and port operators needed to “ensure they get back to strength, and quickly” after large-scale redundancies during the Covid crisis. “We have been warning them for a long time that they would need to gear up again.”
Travellers may also find it harder to reach the airport. The Piccadilly line on the London Underground will not serve any of Heathrow’s terminals at the weekend, while there will be fewer trains stopping at Gatwick because of works at the station.
Pressure on cross-Channel ferry operators at Dover and on Eurotunnel services looks unlikely to ease in time for the weekend, after another P&O Ferries vessel was revealed on Wednesday to have been detained, after surveyors identified “a number of deficiencies”.
Two of P&O’s Dover-based ships that usually sail five times a day to Calais are being investigated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Miles-long queues of freight traffic and holidaymakers hoping to cross the Channel have caused congestion for residents and businesses in Kent.
Motorists in other parts of the country may also face traffic jams over the weekend. Drivers are expected to take more than 21m leisure journeys by car this weekend, according to estimates from the RAC, which it said was the highest number for an Easter holiday since it started tracking plans in 2014. The motoring organisation predicts Good Friday will be the busiest day of the weekend.
“We expect to see huge surges in traffic and delays around airports and motorways. Last weekend, many drivers tried to get ahead of the rush and we saw a 27% increase in driven miles on Waze compared to pre-Covid driving levels,” said Ru Roberts, the UK manager of the navigation app Waze.
Roberts added that traffic could also be affected by drivers looking for competitively priced fuel or forecourts not affected by disruption to deliveries as a result of Just Stop Oil protesters, who have blockaded oil terminals.