Hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers are heading off on overseas half-term breaks for the first time in two years as the UK scraps Covid testing for fully vaccinated travellers.
The travel industry welcomed a "new chapter" as pent-up demand drove bookings close to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, with Turkey, Egypt and Portugal among the most popular short-haul destinations.
Departures to the US state of Florida, Dubai, Mexico and the Caribbean have sold well for longer-haul holidays, according to travel trade organisation, Abta while ski resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland are also in demand.
Stansted Airport is expecting around 200,000 passengers to depart between February 11 and 18, it told Abta.
Other airports seeing an uptick in passengers include Gatwick (186,000 passengers), Manchester (160,000 passengers), Luton (55,000 passengers), Bristol (55,000 passengers) and East Midlands (17,000 passengers).
The UK’s rules for arriving travellers have been eased from 4am on Friday, with people who are fully vaccinated no longer required to take a post-arrival lateral flow test, which typically costs around £20 each.
The requirement for unvaccinated arrivals to self-isolate will be dropped, but they will still need to take tests.
A poll of 2,000 UK consumers commissioned by Abta indicated that 64% of families with children under-16 say the limited opportunities to travel during the pandemic have made their holidays more important to them than before.
UK holidaymakers travelling abroad must still follow the coronavirus regulations that apply at their destination.
Spain’s requirement for children over-12 to be fully vaccinated led many UK families to cancel plans to visit the Mediterranean country over half-term.
But on Friday, Madrid U-turned on this decision and said children who had only had one dose could come to the country from Monday, so long as they had a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of their arrival. However, the move came too late for many families who had not booked or cancelled their holidays due to the rule.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the scrapping of testing ahead of half term comes as “good news” for families.
“The UK has eased international travel measures for Covid-19 and now has one of the most free-flowing borders in the world – sending a clear message that we are open for business,” he added.
Andrew Flintham, managing director for travel group Tui UK, said bookings for February half-term and Easter were now “comparable” to 2019.
“There remains a huge pent-up demand for international travel and we’ve seen strong and sustained booking patterns since the announcement as customers look to go abroad with ease and without the added expense of testing,” he said.
The travel association’s director of communications Graeme Buck said: “Today’s changes to the travel rules are the start of a new chapter for the travel industry’s recovery.
“Testing has been one of the biggest barriers to travel, so it’s hugely welcome that the process of travelling abroad is now much cheaper and easier for millions of UK holidaymakers.”
Cross-Channel train operator Eurostar said more than 125,000 people are booked to travel between the UK and the Continent during the school holiday.
The busiest day will be Friday, when more than 16,000 passengers are booked to travel. Several services are sold out.