Airports and airlines are expecting their busiest weekend of the year so far as schools close and the summer holidays begin for millions.
Heathrow Airport said it was expecting to welcome about 128,000 passengers on Saturday and Sunday – down from daily volumes of around 230,000 to 260,000 in July 2019.
CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “This weekend is set to be one of the busiest of the year so far. We’re thrilled to see the terminals coming to life again, with most of the shops and restaurants now reopened.
“We have additional colleagues on hand to ensure our passengers have a smooth journey as they take well-deserved breaks or travel abroad for long-awaited reunions with loved ones.”
Gatwick Airport said it expects to see around 250 to 260 flights and between 25,000 to 27,000 passengers a day over the weekend – up from a low of just 15 flights a day at the height of the pandemic.
The most popular foreign destination is Spain, with between 60 and 70 flights a day, while around 30 planes will depart each day for Greece, it added.
The airport said flight numbers are still far below the 950 per day at this time of year pre-Covid.
A spokesman said: “Our passengers are now able to choose from flights to more than 100 destinations in over 30 countries so we’re expecting our busiest weekend of the year so far.
“We will handle over 250 each day, with locations in Spain and Greece particularly popular.
“We’ve been looking forward to this weekend – the start of the summer holidays – for some time and cannot wait to finally see our passengers enjoying themselves, whether that’s indulging in some retail therapy or eating in our restaurants, before jetting off on a well-deserved holiday.”
Manchester Airports Group said it is expecting 958 flights at Manchester Airport from Friday to Monday, 224 at East Midlands Airport and 1,330 at London Stansted.
This is up from the 632, 177 and 735 respectively during the same weekend last year, but still well below the 2,512 at Manchester, 503 at East Midlands and 2,139 at London Stansted in July 2019.
A spokesman said: “After what has been the most challenging year in our history, it is encouraging finally to start seeing some passengers return to our terminals.
“Allowing fully vaccinated travellers to visit amber list countries without quarantining on return has been an important step forward, opening up many more destinations for a well-deserved summer holiday.
“This increase in passengers is an encouraging but tentative step towards recovery, with volumes still significantly lower than they were before the pandemic.”
Airline easyJet said it is preparing to carry more than 135,000 passengers this weekend from the UK on over 80 routes to green and amber-list destinations across Europe.
In total there will be 251 easyJet flights taking to the skies, with popular destinations including Malta, Madeira, Malaga in Spain, Faro and Lisbon in Portugal, and Corfu and Athens in Greece, the airline added.
Ali Gayward, easyJet’s UK country manager, said: “With schools breaking up for summer, this weekend sees the busiest weekend so far this year and we are looking forward to taking as many people as we can on that long-awaited and well-deserved trip, or to reunite them with their loved ones.”
Tui said it has almost double the number of passengers travelling Friday to Sunday compared to last weekend, with the Balearics and Greece the “clear favourites” and Palma, Ibiza and Rhodes the most popular destinations.
A spokeswoman said it will be resuming flights to Alicante and Malaga in Spain, the Canary Island of Fuerteventura, Kefalonia and Skiathos in Greece, and Marrakech, Morocco, this weekend.
Jet2 said it has 170 flights departing to more than 40 destinations over the weekend, up from around 70 to six places the previous weekend.
The spokeswoman added: “The start of school holidays in many parts of the UK means that this weekend will be the busiest in months and we’re very excited about taking people away to enjoy a well-deserved and long-overdue holiday.
“Destinations such as the Balearics, Canaries, Croatia, Portugal and Greece are all looking very popular with holidaymakers this weekend and beyond, particularly with such great deals to be had.”
Since May, quarantine and testing requirements have been determined by whether a person is entering the UK from a green, amber or red list location.
Travellers returning from a green destination are not required to self-isolate, but only a handful of major European summer hotspots are in that tier.
Spain, Italy and Greece are among the countries on the amber list.
Those returning from an amber country must quarantine at home for 10 days unless they have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.