Almost 50,000 passengers are expected to fly out of the Capital in just four days as the rush begins to join family and friends or grab some winter sun for Christmas.
The big Christmas getwaway gets underway today with almost 14,000 expected to board flights out of the bustling airport today - making it one of the busiest days of the year. The rush - one of the biggest the airport has ever seen - will continue over the next three days, with Sunday the busiest of all.
The air dash will by matched by busy roads and thousands of extra travellers passing through Waverley and St Andrew Square Bus Station. But there were warnings that severe weather could cause disruption on the roads.
Growing financial confidence means that more people are booking Christmas holidays than in recent years, according to travel industry experts.
One industry insider said: “There’s an optimism to the Edinburgh travel market at the moment. We’re fully expecting to see a very busy weekend with a large number of people heading out of the city for some winter sun and a significant number – as is always the case – returning back home.”
Budget carrier easyJet is expecting record passenger levels, with more than 4000 passengers catching their no-frills flights out of the city on Monday alone, followed by more than 9000 flying in for Hogmanay.
Jennifer Groves, UK route manager for easyJet, said of the forecasted rush: “This is set to be easyJet’s busiest ever Christmas. We are doing everything possible to make travel easy this Christmas by offering online check-in up to 30 days in advance, mobile boarding passes and a flight tracker tool which provides live updates on every flight.”
The most popular holiday destinations for sun lovers will be the Canary Islands, Tunisia, Morocco and the Cape Verde Islands, off western Africa.
Travel association Abta said Dubai, Mexico, Cuba and Kenya were the favourite long haul Christmas destinations, while – outside of Edinburgh itself – Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Dublin top the list for New Year. Nationally four million Brits will head overseas for Christmas and New Year.
Other popular destinations include Krakow as many of the city’s Polish residents head home.
Transport Scotland is expecting roads around Edinburgh to be clogged this weekend and is issuing emergency travel warnings as heavy rain and gale force winds are forecast to batter the Lothians from this afternoon.
A spokesman said: “Although this weekend is not expected to be anything like as disruptive as some of the stormy conditions witnessed a fortnight ago, we are closely monitoring the situation and stand ready to activate our multi-agency response team beyond Friday if required.”
Neil Greig, spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “The Christmas rush does tend to get slightly more spread out because different schools are stopping at different times, but I do anticipate this weekend will be the major rush to get away.
“The key thing to remember is the busiest locations will almost certainly be around out-of-town shopping centres. If your journey involves going past one of them, there’s a good chance you might be delayed. Also the thing to remember is if you’re driving a long distance for the first time in several months you should make sure that you and your car are well prepared for the journey. A lot of breakdowns occur when people just jump into a car they have been driving to and from work for several months and expect it to do a long run down the motorway.”
More electronic weather stations are being used this festive season across the Lothians to beam real-time weather conditions back into the traffic control centre at South Queensferry.
People can now take in the view from individual cameras positioned around Edinburgh to check road conditions via Traffic Scotland’s desktop and mobile websites.
A total of 1.3 million individual hits were recorded on December 5 alone – a day in which winds of up to 59mph buffeted the Capital and the Forth Road Bridge was forced to shut for about two hours.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said: “Christmas is a time for families to get together and for everyone to enjoy the best of the festive season and we want to help people have the best possible journey to their destinations.
“There is no doubt that the way road users access information is changing and Transport Scotland and Traffic Scotland is changing with them to make sure that we meet their demands.”
A voice-to-text mobile app is also being trialled. The service allows drivers to find out the latest weather information by talking into their phones without taking their eyes off the road.
Mr Brown said: “We have high levels of salt in stock and more gritters, as well as specialist equipment, at our disposal than ever before.
“However, we also need the public to play their part for all of these developments by staying patient and making sensible decisions such as allowing extra time for their journeys or listening to police advice about when it is safe to travel.”
Top ten destinations from Capital:
1: London (Gatwick, Stansted and Luton)
Four-day passenger numbers flying out of Edinburgh:
New route’s going to Ibiza
More flights will be run to Mediterranean party hot spot Ibiza from May when British Airways launches a direct service from Edinburgh.
The flagship carrier will become the third airline, alongside Jet2 and Thomson Airways, to fly to the island from the Capital.
Flights will start from May 23 and run every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The service will run through the summer until early September.
The new route announcement represents a change in tact from British Airways, which had otherwise concentrated on flying passengers into London.
British Airways UK head of sales and marketing Richard Tams said: “This new service will offer holidaymakers the opportunity to fly direct with all the advantages of flying with a full-service carrier.”
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said: “Our goal is to provide our passengers with as much choice as possible.”
Direct flights to Doha and Philadelphia are also being launched from Edinburgh in May.