Expats have flocked to airports in a desperate bid to escape the UK before winter lockdown slams the border shut tomorrow night.
Up to 10,000 people booked trips away in a single day – with some Britons heading on extended holidays.
Holiday firms are reporting sales surged by a quarter since last week as Britons capitalise on 11th-hour deals.
It comes after package holiday companies were accused of illegally withholding £1billion in refunds to families whose trips were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Paul Charles, the owner of travel consultants PC Agency, said he knew of up to 10,000 bookings since Monday morning.
The businessman claimed it was mainly elderly tourists or people who can work from home who were looking to escape before the new restrictions.
Holiday firms are reporting sales surged by a quarter since last week as Britons capitalise on 11th-hour deals (pictured, Heathrow today)
It comes after package holiday companies were accused of illegally withholding £1billion in refunds to families whose trips were cancelled due to the pandemic (pictured, Heathrow today)
He told the Times: ‘Some are going to the Caribbean, some to the Maldives, to places that are much warmer and from where you don’t necessarily have to quarantine on your return.
‘The perception is that, well, either you can be locked down or you can quarantine. They’re not hugely dissimilar.’
Mr Charles added holidaymakers can take trips to places such as Antigua in the Caribbean for £440, down from £600.
Henry Weikle, a university student who booked his flight two days ago said he is flying to Istanbul to ‘avoid restrictions’ and be able to ‘attend Mass’.
The 24-year-old said: ‘Turkey is one of the few countries that is letting Americans in and seems less restricted from a COVID point of view.
‘I’m personally Roman Catholic and would like to be able to attend Mass and I think the churches are going to close with the lockdown here.
Henry Weikle, a university student who booked his flight two days ago said he is flying to Istanbul to ‘avoid restrictions’ and be able to ‘attend Mass’
‘I booked my flight two days ago, it was a pretty sudden decision. I’ve booked an Airbnb until December 4th and then I will assess what’s going on then.’
Bookings have boomed after the government announced holidays in England and abroad would be banned from November 5 until December 2.
Mr Weikle, who is originally from Washington DC, continued: ‘I’m currently doing remote tutoring so I was pretty lucky in the sense of having the flexibility.
‘If the restrictions lift in early December I’ll come back and quarantine. If they’re continuing through the new year I’ll probably stay in Turkey.’
Foreign nationals entering the UK are allowed provided they follow the appropriate lockdown rules.
He added: ‘The restrictions feel ineffective to me but I’m pretty ignorant of most of these things.
‘I would prefer if there was just a hard and fast lockdown that we all knew was coming instead of this jerking back and forth.’
People already sunning themselves are not required to rush home, but will be expected to follow the new restrictions upon their return.
But for those wanting to travel, it is now or not for a while.
Filipa Principe from Sutton, booked a flight yesterday to visit her family in Lisbon, Portugal, because she was anxious she might get stuck in the UK.
The sound editor, 44, said: ‘I just don’t want to be stuck here for lockdown and I can work remotely and my work said absolutely fine, just go on the first flight you can get.
Paul Charles, the owner of travel consultants PC Agency, said he knew of up to 10,000 bookings since Monday morning (pictured, Heathrow today)
‘As soon as I heard on the news there was going to be another lockdown I started thinking about it.
‘Then obviously on Saturday when Boris announced properly the lockdown from Thursday I thought I would try and go before that.
‘I was worried I couldn’t travel or they would start cancelling loads of flights like on the first lockdown.’
Ms Principe had a flight cancelled during the first lockdown earlier this year.
She said: ‘I started getting quite anxious and worried in case I needed to go for any family reasons.
‘Even though I live here, I travel back and forth at least once a month and the idea of not being able to go makes me very stressed.’
Like most people, Ms Principe has not booked a return until after Christmas. ‘I’ve got a flight for the Jan 9 so let’s see what happens.
‘I won’t come back before Christmas that’s for sure, because I would have to quarantine for two weeks anyways.’
When asked what she thinks about the new restrictions, Ms Principe said: ‘If we don’t do nothing then we can’t go on with this virus in this world.
‘Whether they are the right restrictions or not I don’t know, I’m not a scientist.’
While some people have timed their departure, others say they just got lucky.
Mr Charles added holidaymakers can take trips to places such as Antigua in the Caribbean for £440, down from £600 (pictured, Heathrow today)
Natalie Kaczmarek, 27, a public relations executive from Norfolk, is travelling back to Warsaw in Poland, to see her family.
She changed her booking about a month ago by ‘pure luck’.
Ms Kaczmarek said: ‘I was just very lucky with the fact that I changed my reservation a month ago without knowing we were going into a second lockdown.
‘The main thing was if my flight would still happen because I know some of the airlines have cancelled most of their flights.
‘So I’m relieved that I’m able to fly today because I haven’t seen my family for a year. I plan on coming back in January, so hopefully it’ll be okay.
‘But it won’t be a massive issue for me if I wont be able to fly back in January. I think the restrictions came in a bit late to be fair.
‘In my opinion schools and universities should have closed as well. They are the main place where the virus could spread because children are not generally aware of the facts.
‘I guess I’m a bit disappointed in the general government response, which is quite underactive in my opinion.’
Jamel Jerrol, 25, from the Netherlands said he also got ‘lucky’ when he booked his ticket home two weeks ago.
But the restrictions mean he will not be able to see his girlfriend for at least a month. Mr Jerrol said: ‘I was already planning on going today, so that’s lucky for me I guess.
‘My girlfriend lives here, she’s from the UK so yeah, I won’t see her for a month I guess.
‘She’s not able to come over to the Netherlands and I’m not able to come here. We travel every two weeks normally, so that’s why it affects us. It is what it is.’
For some people, the restrictions have precipitated their plans to move back home.
Bruno Couveiro, 45, also from Lisbon, was working as a bartender in London before lockdown. Now, having lost his job, he is returning to Portugal for good.
Mr Couveiro said: ‘I was going to stay till Christmas but because of the lockdown I decided to go back to Portugal.
‘The bar is closed and is going to stay closed for the next month. My plan was to be home by Christmas anyways, but because of the lockdown, I decided to go home earlier. I don’t want to get stuck here.’
Meanwhile some Britons were heading off for some extended winter sun before the second lockdown kicks in.
Andrew, from Liverpool, wrote on Twitter: ‘Time to Fly! G-EUPR to fly me on the short hop down from MAN-LHR this afternoon.
‘But then tomorrow I escape the UK for my first time since February & in the nick of time before lockdown 2.0 Flying LHR-MAD tomorrow then Thurs MAD-TFS for a nice 9 day holiday in Tenerife.
Charlotte Pardoe from Wolverhampton posted: ‘Never felt so lucky with the timing of this holiday, just in time before lockdown.’
And an 18-year-old student from Wales added: ‘Lockdown 2 pending.. time to restart my hours of searching through holiday websites.’
The Foreign Office website says from Thursday there will be ‘no exemption for staying away from home on holiday’.
But it has admitted that it cannot place rules on people who have already left the country.
Around 9.4million people have lost a trip since coronavirus hit the UK – and the figure will rise again with the new lockdown and government ban.
But many of the firms involved are delaying making refunds or trying to fob people off with vouchers or the option to re-book, say consumer experts Which?
Under the Package Travel Regulations 2018, the customer is legally entitled to a full refund within 14 days providing the holiday is cancelled by the operator.
A package holiday is a booking comprising at least two types of travel or travel-related services made through the same source, most commonly flights and accommodation.
People who book flights and accommodation separately do not have the same protection.
It is bad news for customers of airlines such as Ryanair, which has refused refunds when it chooses to continue operating flights even when the government has effectively banned travel on them.
Yesterday, the airline revealed that Covid-19 restrictions slashed passenger numbers by 80 per cent in the six months to September 30, pushing it to a loss of £178million.
Package holiday firms have been accused of illegally withholding £1billion in refunds to families whose holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic (file photo)
Covid-19 sees biggest-ever drop in UK traffic levels, with 50 BILLION less miles travelled by road
Covid-19 has triggered the biggest annual fall in traffic levels since modern records began, according to new Government figures.
The volume of vehicles on the roads declined by 13.6 per cent between June 2019 and June this year, the largest drop since 1994.
This amounts to 51 billion less road miles travelled, down from 356 to 305 billion year-on-year, provisional estimates by the Department for Transport suggest.
Passenger cars saw the biggest slide at 15.2 per cent, with motorway journeys down by 17.3 per cent.
Commercial traffic saw smaller declines but there was still a fall of 7.8% for lorries and 7.3% for vans.
The statistical analysis suggest that, without the pandemic, volumes would have increased by 1 per cent over the period to 357.1 billion vehicle miles.
Nicholas Lyes, head of policy at the RAC, said: ‘There is little doubt that 2020 is having a profound impact on our travel habits.
‘The biggest fall in traffic volumes was on motorways as drivers tended to stay local during the lockdown periods in the Spring, with the sight of empty highways surely one of the enduring images of that stage of the pandemic..’
With the majority of people staying at home, even travel on minors roads was down by 11.1 per cent as we took the car out only for essential trips such as buying groceries.
Comparing the figures over a 20-year period, the Department says that overall traffic has increased by 4.6 per cent in two decades.
However, the volume of cars has actually declined by 0.8 per cent in spite of the apparent increase in the number of cars on our roads.
Lorry traffic has dropped by 9.5 per cent but it is vans that have forced the overall number up, with van traffic increasing over 20 years by 57.4 per cent.
Traffic levels are expected to dip with the introduction of the new national lockdown.
‘We are already seeing traffic volumes start to dip again after rising through the summer and with the introduction of local lockdowns,’ Mr Lyes added.
Controversial boss, Michael O’Leary, confirmed people who have paid for flights through November would not get their money back, saying: ‘If a flight is operating then no, we will not be offering refunds.
‘But what customers can avail of is our change facility and we’ve waived the change fee so if they have booking in November they can change it and move it to December or January if needs be. But there won’t be refunds on flights that are operating and travelling.’
Which? said more than £8billion worth of package holidays are estimated to have been cancelled since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, with just over £1billion outstanding in refunds.
A survey of more than 7,500 who have had a package holiday cancelled found one in five who have asked for a refund were still waiting for their money at the beginning of October. The average figure was around £1,784.
During the summer, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into package travel companies’ handling of cancellations and refunds.
Subsequently, travel giant Tui agreed to refund all customers by September 30. Subsequently, Virgin Holidays committed to processing refunds for all holidays cancelled up to the end of October by November 20.
There are suspicions that the holiday firms simply do not have the cash to make refunds.
In some cases, this is because airlines have been slow to hand back money for cancelled flights.
Which? is calling on the government to outline how it will support the travel industry through the rest of the pandemic, and is urging it to introduce a travel guarantee fund to support package holiday providers that are struggling to fulfil their legal obligations to pay refunds.
Which?’s advice to anyone looking to book a future holiday is to use a provider with a good record on refunds.
It also suggests people consider booking a package, rather than a flight alone, to ensure they have greater legal protections if they cannot travel because of coronavirus.
Editor of Which? Travel Rory Boland said: ‘Since Which? first highlighted the issue of holiday companies delaying or denying refunds for holidays cancelled due to coronavirus, some operators have continued to flout the law and the sums of money being illegally withheld from holidaymakers are staggering.
‘It’s simply unacceptable that some of the UK’s largest operators are still getting away with breaking the law, but without meaningful intervention from the government and the regulators in this space, many people will struggle to get their money back.
‘The CMA must take firm action against any operators that are continuing to drag their feet on refunding holidaymakers, and the government must urgently set out how it will support travel companies in fulfilling their legal obligations to passengers.’
Around 9.4million people have lost a trip since coronavirus hit the UK – and the figure will rise again with the new lockdown and government ban (file photo)
The CMA said: ‘Following our action, thousands of people have received money back for their cancelled package holidays – with refunds totalling over £203million from Virgin Holidays alone.
‘We’ve also written to more than 100 firms setting out their obligations to consumers in relation to holiday cancellations, as well as tackling the likes of Sykes Cottages and Vacation Rentals to make sure people are properly refunded.
‘This is not an issue we’re going to walk away from. We are continuing our investigations into the package holiday sector and will consider taking further action if we find evidence that businesses have breached consumer protection law.’
The travel industry trade body, Abta, said its members have been working hard to process refunds and re-bookings.
But it admitted: ‘Some customers are still waiting longer than normal as delayed airline refunds remain an ongoing challenge for some travel organisers and travel agents, which, combined with higher volumes of enquiries and less staff to handle them have led to delays in customers receiving refunds.’