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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 03:27 GMT
Festive travel bonanza
Rail passengers face long journeys and packed trains
Airlines and coach companies are reporting big increases in business as people seek hassle-free travel over the Christmas period.

Many thousands of people are planning journeys over the festive period.

But this year's seasonal rush has been complicated by continuing major problems on the railways, where 500 speed restrictions are still in force after the Hatfield crash.

An emergency timetable still in force across the network means fewer trains than usual are running and many east coast services are already fully booked.

Hopefully, some people will wait until Saturday lunchtime before they set off

AA spokeswoman

The AA is advising drivers to stagger their journeys to avoid jams.

A spokeswoman for the RAC said: "We are expecting it to get busy on Thursday lunchtime as people try to leave work early to avoid the rush.

Extra airline seats

The AA advised: "We are expecting Friday to be very busy and our advice is for people to stagger their journeys.

"Hopefully, some people will wait until Saturday lunchtime before they set off. People might even decide to travel on Sunday morning."

British Airways plans to provide 12,000 extra seats on domestic flights over the Christmas period.

BA jets
British Airways' bookings are up
The company said bookings for December were up 9% compared with last year with more than a half a million passengers due to jet off for destinations abroad or in the UK.

From the UK alone, 530,000 people are booked to leave London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports.

On Christmas Day, the airline plans to operate 91 long-haul flights and 37 short-haul flights in and out of the airports.

Coach operators National Express said there had been an increase in demand of 15%-20% over the Christmas period.

Daily rush

A spokesman for rail company GNER said there were no seats left for services between 0800GMT and 1500 on Saturday 23 December.

The company operates train services to York, Newcastle and Edinburgh from King's Cross station in London.

Tickets had been selling at 20,000 a day for the Christmas period since it announced that anyone wanting to travel between 21 December and 3 January would have to book in advance.

A spokesman for Virgin trains, where passengers are not required to book, said some tickets were still left.

Routes to Scotland

"However, we are advising people to book in advance," he said.

"The routes that are busiest are the routes to Scotland."

Anthony Smith, national director of the Rail Passengers Council, advised travellers to book and to ask how long train journeys were expected to take.

"The situation entirely depends on which part of the country you are in. Some parts are virtually unaffected."

Railtrack said an extensive programme of track repairs would begin on Christmas Day.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Minister denies rail complacency
17 Nov 00 | Business
The new Railtrack boss
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