Ash cloud: UK airports set for busiest weekend in a decade

Ash cloud: UK airports set for busiest weekend in a decade

More than two million people are expected to pass through UK airports this weekend, making it the busiest Whitsun bank holiday in at least a decade, with New York, Dubai and Dublin the top three destinations.

Eurocontrol, the air traffic control body, said it expected a trouble-free weekend following uncertainties earlier in the week surrounding the ash cloud. Iceland’s Grimsvötn volcano is still active but throwing out steam and smoke rather than ash particles.

The ash cloud led to more than 900 flights in northern Europe being cancelled at the start of the week.

“Any significant ash concentrations are far out over the sea, at very low altitudes and well away from the air routes or airports,” said Eurocontrol’s head of network operations, Brian Flynn. “The expectation for the next couple of days is that there will be no disturbances to air traffic whatsoever.”

The Icelandic ash cloud will bring an unexpected benefit to rail passengers travelling between London and Glasgow after Network Rail lifted engineering works on the west coast main line amid fears that the volcano would erupt over the weekend. The works will not be reinstated.

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More than 5 million rail passengers are expected to travel on the network this weekend. The major engineering works are at Liverpool Street station in London, where there will be no trains to Shenfield on Sunday and Monday. South London between London Bridge and Victoria and Tulse Hill will also be affected.

However it will not all be plain sailing at Heathrow over the half-term holidays as train drivers of Heathrow Express walk out for 48 hours from next Friday, with a further 24 hour stoppage planned for June 24 and others scheduled for July.

The dispute, over a pay claim, is threatening disruption over the summer, forcing passengers to find other ways of reaching the airport.

The company said it was finalising a “contingency timetable”, but declined to provide further details of how its operation would be hit.

Meanwhile nearly 80 flights in and out of Heathrow have been cancelled due to high winds and thunderstorms. But BAA said schedules are back to normal ahead of the bank holiday getaway.