The Great Summer Getaway: Rail chaos, skyrocketing airfares and long highway delays impact the holidays

As millions of travelers gear up for the biggest summer getaway since 2019, the transportation network looks increasingly precarious.

Across England, thousands of trains have been canceled as the latest round of national rail strikes resume. Up to 20,000 RMT union members working for 14 train operators in England walked out on Thursday July 20 in the long and bitter dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions.

Many airport rail services have been cancelled, leaving hundreds of thousands of air passengers potentially facing expensive and stressful taxi journeys.

Britain’s biggest low-cost airline easyJet blamed ‘unprecedented ATC [air-traffic control] interruption” for the large number of cancellations it has made so far this summer – while airfares for immediate departures are skyrocketing.

Travelers to France by ferry from Dover are being warned of border delays of up to 2.5 hours on Saturday morning when a wave of departing families run into tighter border controls following Brexit.

Motoring organizations are warning of congestion on major motorways at the start of school holidays in England and Wales.

Here’s everything you need to know about transportation as the great summer getaway begins.

Travel by rail

More than half of trains across England will be canceled on Saturday July 22 as RMT union members working for 14 train operators step down. Large parts of the country will have no trains, while trains running on major intercity and commuter lines are likely to be overcrowded.

South Western Railway, which runs from the UK’s busiest station, London Waterloo, tells passengers: ‘Only travel if absolutely necessary. A significantly reduced service will operate on a limited number of lines.

“Large parts of our network will be closed and trains will only run between 7am and 7pm.” He warns that Friday morning services will start later than normal due to Thursday’s strike.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing rail operators, says: ‘We have now made three offers which the RMT executive has blocked without a convincing explanation.

Talks between the rail companies and the union have been deadlocked since April, when the RMT rejected a wage offer of at least 4% in 2022 and 2023 – subject to reforms to working practices. The deal was not offered to the members.

Since then, train operators have announced their intention to close almost all ticket offices in English stations.

Union general secretary Mick Lynch said: “I am proud of our members for showing such courage and resolve in this long-standing dispute.

“The recent attack on ticket offices and the threat to cut staff from our railways has galvanized a huge wave of public support for which we are grateful.

“Our members and our union will not be intimidated by railway bosses or government ministers and our dispute will continue until we reach a negotiated settlement.”

The RDG blamed divisions within the union for the standoff. He issued a briefing claiming: “The RMT executive prevented the deal negotiated line by line by its leadership team from reaching its members for a vote, with frontline workers losing a pay rise of up to 13% – alongside job guarantees – as a result. It is difficult to move forward in a conflict when the negotiating team and the executive appear to be at odds.

Passengers at London stations had mixed views of Thursday’s strike. Sharon Higginson, traveling with two friends from London Euston to her home in Warrington, told The Independent“We should have brought the train back from quarter to six this evening to [Manchester] Piccadilly. We were told to check the trains before leaving. Now we leave at a quarter to two to be sure of our connection between Piccadilly and Warrington.

“We must support the strikers. We are really very lucky to be able to take a train. That’s how we see it. »

His message to the government: “Sort it out. Taking care of workers is what we need. Give them what they want.

But along the road in London King’s Cross, Steve Gyapay, a north London trader waiting for a train to York, said: ‘I had some sympathy [for the unions], I must admit. But it’s fading now because it’s been going on for a very long time. I think they could have solved this problem rather than bothering so many people. Anyway, they earn a lot of money, compared to what I earn.

A planned strike by RMT members working for the London Underground, which would have shut down almost the entire Tube network between Sunday July 23 and Friday July 28, was called off 36 hours before the planned strike after talks progressed at the Conciliation Service, Acas.

The final day of RMT’s national rail action is scheduled for Saturday, July 29, with effects continuing into the next day.

On Monday, July 31, a six-day overtime ban for Aslef-owned train drivers begins. The union is involved in a similar dispute over wages and working conditions.

Cricket fans hoping to catch the fifth Ashes Test between England and Australia at the Oval will be hit by both sets of industrial action.


Friday July 21 is expected to be the busiest day for European aviation since 2019, with more than 35,000 departures. Over the weekend, between Friday and Monday, 11,839 flights are scheduled from UK airports with 2.1 million seats, according to aviation analyst Cirium. On Friday alone, flights will depart from UK airports at a rate of more than two per minute.

The most popular international destinations for UK departures are Dublin, Amsterdam, Palma, Malaga and Alicante, Cirium said.

The number of departures is at 89% of 2019 levels. This figure would be even higher if easyJet did not cancel 1,700 flights over two months of the summer peak.

Britain’s biggest budget airline has reduced its schedules in a bid to increase the resilience of its main base, London Gatwick.

easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “We are absolutely focused on mitigating the impact of the challenging external environment on our customers and on their flight during their well-deserved holidays.”

Partly because easyJet pulled 300,000 seats from the peak summer market, fares have soared.

Most easyJet flights from London Gatwick to Malaga in southern Spain on Saturday are fully booked, with the rest of the airline now down to just one seat at £284 one-way. Next Wednesday, July 26, Ryanair is charging £320 for a 110-minute hop from Luton to Beziers in south-west France.

Road trips

The busiest weekend of the year so far on the roads could see an alarming number of car breakdowns, according to the AA. The car organization predicts that 250,000 cars used for holidays in the UK this summer will suffer a breakdown, with those coming from cities being most at risk.

Nick Powell, AA Patrol of the Year, said: ‘The low mileage that city cars tend to have, particularly in London, makes it harder for their owners to spot problems that can go wrong with their vehicles. Set off on a journey of hundreds of miles, with the summer vacation challenges of heat and traffic jams, and hidden faults such as tire and coolant issues can easily crop up and ruin a vacation.

The RAC predicts that Saturday will see the highest number of leisure trips, with congestion peaking between noon and 6 p.m. Manchester’s M60 orbital freeway is designated for the worst traffic jams, anti-clockwise between Junction 14 for St Helen’s and Junction 11 for Eccles.

The M5 south of Bristol and the M25 in London are also likely to be extremely busy.

Ferry trip

Over the corresponding weekend in 2022, huge queues built up at the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone as the effects of post-Brexit passport checks became apparent.

Because the UK negotiated to become a “third country”, French border police now have to stamp every passport and check the duration of stays in the European Union.

Port of Kent chief executive Doug Bannister said: “When passengers arrive at the Port of Dover they will be processed through border controls – which are expected to take around 90 minutes on peak days.

“However, our modeling indicates that processing times can be up to 2.5 hours during peak hours from 6am to 1pm during the first two Saturdays and Sundays of the summer holidays, due to the extreme popularity of these days.

Motorists are asked not to show up without a reservation and not to arrive more than three hours before their reserved departure.

P&O Ferries told passengers: “Rest assured, if you miss your navigation, you will be on the first available once you check in.”

Motorists reaching France are being warned by road authorities of a severe traffic jam – “very difficult traffic” – on the motorways south of Paris all day Saturday.

Package tours

Extreme temperatures in southern Europe have not deterred would-be holidaymakers from booking short-notice trips to the Mediterranean. Julia Lo Bue-Said, Managing Director of Advantage Travel Partnership, said The Independent“Inquiries through our network of travel agents continue to be high.

“Other factors such as availability and price are the key determinants of whether people book – not ‘hot’ weather, which doesn’t lead to cancellations.

“Without a doubt, the Met Office rain forecast in the UK has a greater influence on behavior than lounging on a beach, being refreshed by the sea or diving into a swimming pool.

“We would always advise holidaymakers to follow the locals, act like they do, nap, hydrate and avoid direct midday sun.”

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