Thousands of British travellers will spend Christmas Day at 37,000 feet to save hundreds of pounds on airfares.
Normally flights on December 25 depart half empty. But this year they are bulging with recession-hit passengers keen to take advantage of the festive fall in fares. Virgin Atlantic reports that flights departing for Australia on Christmas Eve - arriving on Boxing Day - are 95 per cent full.
The third week of December always sees a surge in demand that sends fares sky high, with some travellers prepared to spend a fortune to be with the right people or on the right beach on Christmas Day. But on December 25 itself (and for overnight flights starting on Christmas Eve) airlines experience a sudden fall in bookings.
Some canny passengers book these so-called "dog flights" in the expectation of plenty of empty seats. But this year, while there are still bargains to be had for travellers prepared to surrender Christmas Day, planes leaving the UK will be almost full.
Some travellers book flights for December 25 as a Christmas-avoidance technique, Anna Catchpole, a spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic, said.
"These are the people for whom pulling crackers and opening Christmas presents can represent the worst of all possible worlds," she said.
Travellers with religious, emotional or pathological grounds for avoiding Christmas Day celebrations can erase the date entirely by bagging a bargain flight on the longest-scheduled flight from the UK, Air New Zealand's voyage to Auckland via Los Angeles.
There is still availability for the Christmas Eve departure, which reaches LA the same day, local time. After refuelling, the westbound plane departs later that evening. As it crosses the International Date Line close to Fiji, the calendar jumps from 24 to 26 December.
David Whitley, founder of the Australianflightbargains.com website, said high seasonal prices just before Christmas reflect global demand: "It's not just the amount of people travelling between the UK and Australasia, but the number travelling from, or transiting through, popular hubs such as Singapore."
- INDEPENDENTBy Simon Calder