Holidaymakers flying abroad this weekend will be more than double last week’s numbers as travellers race to escape before any further tightening of rules.
Tour operators and airlines reported 100 per cent-plus increases with many last-minute bookings as holidaymakers targeted the Spanish and Greek islands for the start of the school holidays.
It means nearly 400,000 Britons are set to fly out this weekend, making a total of 1.5 million for the week, the highest number so far this year.
It is 50 per cent up on last year’s one million who flew out in the same week but still only around 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, according to data from OAG flight tracker.
Travel firms reported one in seven holidaymakers were last-minute bookings as they took advantage of a two-week window before the Government reviewed its green, amber and red lists of destinations.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “There’s definitely a rush to take advantage of the window of opportunity before further potential changes as infection rates increase. It is proven by more flights being added to European destinations as well as the Caribbean.”
David Child, head of brand and PR at Thomas Cook, said 15 per cent of their bookings had been in the last week as would-be holidaymakers cashed in on prices depressed by the uncertainty over foreign travel this summer.
“The people who are booking last minute are taking advantage of fantastic prices on offer. They are more expensive than they were in June but you can still get a five-star holiday for four-star prices,” he said.
Package holidays to green-listed Malta are on average 52 per cent cheaper than before the pandemic, with trips to Spain around 20 per cent less costly, Greece 11 per cent and Portugal 10 per cent, according to price comparison website Travelsupermarket.com.
While most plane seats this weekend would normally be filled by families, Mr Child said it had fallen to about a third as many parents with young children would have opted for the certainty of a pre-booked holiday in Britain.
TUI, Britain’s biggest tour operator, said it had doubled flights to 85 this weekend compared with last weekend with Mallorca the most popular followed by Ibiza, despite both having been shifted to amber from green last week. Rhodes – also amber – was the third favourite choice.
Travel countries on the red, green and amber list
Tour operator Jet2 said it was putting on more than 170 flights this weekend to more than 40 destinations, compared with 70 last weekend to just six. More people were also opting for the security of a package holiday rather than flight-only.
It said Mallorca, Ibiza and the Canaries were the most popular followed by Croatia, Algarve and Greek islands of Crete, Corfu and Rhodes.
Greece was the destination which has recovered the most, according to data analytics firm Cirium, which suggested it was approaching pre-pandemic levels.
There are 352 flights scheduled for this weekend which is 95 per cent of the 372 flights operated on the comparable weekend in 2019. Spain, with 996 scheduled flights, is at 66 per cent of 2019 levels and Portugal, with 205, is at 41 per cent.
EasyJet is offering flights to Europe from £22.99 – cheaper than the cost of PCR tests – as it said it would 135,000 passengers this weekend from the UK on over 80 routes.
Meanwhile, Israeli ministers voted to ban citizens from flying to Britain on Thursday night as they sought to control the spread of the delta variant.
The Israeli government said it would add the United Kingdom, Georgia, Cyprus and Turkey to its red list, which means that Israelis who travel to those countries face a 5,000 shekel (£1,100) fine upon their return.
The new measure is expected to come into force on July 30 and will be a blow to British-Israelis who hoped to visit friends and family in the UK this summer.
Israel is already closed to British holidaymakers and last month delayed plans to reopen its tourism industry due to rising Covid infection rates.