Christmas Eve travel chaos: Britain crippled by train station and airport hell

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M25 traffic: AA map shows long delays near Heathrow

Multiple rail operators are already operating dramatically reduced timetables with one in 10 members of staff absent as a result of illness and self-isolation fuelled by the surge in cases of the Omicron variant. CrossCountry, which operates services across Britain including in the West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire and North East, confirmed these would be impacted by industrial action by the RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers).

Meanwhile long tail-backs were reported on the M25 as a result of lane closures and a broken-down vehicle, while airports were reporting seven times as many passengers as last year, and huge queues.

The cancellation of train services by operators across Britain due to pandemic-related staff shortages continues, with LNER, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast, Northern, ScotRail, Southern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express among those affected.

This is involving a combination of planned and short-notice cancellations.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said a strike by its members who are train managers and senior conductors at CrossCountry is being “solidly supported in all depots”.

The action means the firm is running a heavily reduced service on Friday.

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport has faced criticism on social media (Image: GETTY/Twitter)

Heavy traffic on the M25 in Kent

Heavy traffic on the M25 in Kent (Image: GETTY)

That means its trains are not operating between Aberdeen and Edinburgh; Glasgow Central and Edinburgh; Derby and Nottingham; Leicester and Stansted Airport; Cheltenham Spa and Cardiff Central; Newton Abbot and Paignton; or Plymouth and Penzance.

To make things worse, Network Rail is preparing to begin 370 engineering projects on the railways, which will also disrupt services.

Heathrow Airport will be cut off from the rail and Tube network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day due to Network Rail and Transport for London doing simultaneous work.

Meanwhile, the AA has estimated there will be 17.8 million cars on UK roads on Friday, as drivers making Christmas Eve leisure journeys and trips to buy presents compete for road space with commuters.

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Crowds Gatwick

Crowds at Gatwick earlier this week (Image: GETTY)

The worst queues were expected to take place in Wiltshire on the A303 between West Solstice Park and the A36, according to the RAC and traffic information supplier Inrix.

National Highways reported “severe” congestion on the M6 between Junctions 5 and 6 near Birmingham at 11.30am.

On the M25, broken-down vehicles caused lengthy queues anti-clockwise between J22 (St. Albans) and J21A, and J24 (Potters Bar/Barnet/Enfield) and J23 (A1 (M) J1/Barnet) on Friday evening.

In terms of Britain’s airports, multiple Twitter users shared pictures and footage of huge queues at passport control.

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Heathrow is experiencing lengthy queues at passport control (Image: GETTY)

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport’s tweet (Image: Twitter)

One arriver tweeted: “Do we need four hours and a half to enter the UK border?

“Worst feeling @HeathrowAirport”.

Çagatay Gunay added: “Wonder why there are only a few officers working at passport control @HeathrowAirport @ukhomeoffice.

“People with health issues are having really hard times while waiting for hours there. Makes me think what our legal rights are and who is responsible for the health emergencies.”

M25 queues

Queues on the M25 yesterday (Image: GETTY)

Heathrow Airport’s official account replied: “Border Force are currently experiencing some delays processing passengers through the UK border.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused and will continue to support Border Force where we can. If you require urgent support, please ask the nearest colleague for assistance.”

Gatwick was also in the firing line, with Glenn Hallam posting: “Firstly, directed from the speeding boarding queue to a slower line, although having paid for this service.

“Consequences? Missing our lounge also paid for. Secondly, Arrive in #Prague, no luggage – Merry Christmas!”

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport (Image: GETTY)

Gatwick replied: “Sorry to hear about the delay. Please give us the full details about what happened at Security here so we can investigate.”

David Kelly also reported problems at Manchester Airport, explaining: “I got off a flight from Dublin on the 21st and my bag was not on the carousel I filled in a form and I still have heard nothing back.

“I need a ref number for the airline, what the hell is going on, this is following on from the debacle that was the 18th. Help anybody.” has contacted Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester Airports for comment.

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