The Daily Telegraph - Escaping Christmas
December 20, 2011

Avoid all the family dramas and turkey leftovers – and cash in on cheap fares.

There’s nothing quite like Christmas Day – especially when experienced at 35,000 feet above the ground. Airlines see a marked drop in bookings on December 25, with many flights only half full, so it can be one of the most enjoyable times to travel. Not only will you glide through semi-deserted airports, you’ll almost certainly pay less for the privilege, particularly when booking at the last minute. Perhaps it’s the champagne that flows more freely, but the cabin crew seem to be jollier, too.

I’ve made a habit of fleeing the country on Christmas Day and have been rewarded by spending it in the company of airline staff who really enter into the spirit of the occasion. I’ve seen captains dressed in Father Christmas hats, and air stewards decked out in reindeer horns and tinsel tiaras. Cheesy, of course, but fun.

Even the public addresses from the cockpit are sprinkled with seasonal cheer. On one half-empty flight to the Tropics, the captain told the children on board that he had spotted Father Christmas on his sleigh crossing our flight path.

The in-flight food usually has a seasonal flavour. Over the years, I have enjoyed turkey slices with roast potatoes and gravy, followed by plum pudding. While the meals weren’t a patch on home cooking, it was a lot more fun than preparing Christmas lunch myself.

And then there’s all that free fizz. On empty Christmas flights, I have even been offered bubbly from the well-stocked fridges in business and first class – a lovely gesture of seasonal cheer.

Flying on Christmas Day has another distinct advantage – it’s an excellent excuse to duck out of all those family dramas on the ground. For some, these “dog flights” can be a godsend.

I try to coordinate my travel plans to fly on the evening of Christmas Day so I can be around for the family lunch, before slipping away to the airport after the Queen’s Speech, avoiding the forced fun of family games, the snoring uncle who overate and overdrank, and the washing-up. Getting to the airport is a breeze as the traffic will be light, the atmosphere in the terminal is relaxed and, most importantly of all, there’s no queue.

Best of all is the anticipation of swapping what is usually a bleak, grey day in the UK with sub-zero temperatures or mild drizzle for 30-degree sunshine or dazzling pistes. Plus, there is no Boxing Day anticlimax of playing with unwanted presents, watching movie repeats and eating turkey leftovers.

A quick scan of December 25 flight prices confirms the benefits. Travel with British Airways to Dubai on Boxing Day (returning on January 3) and you’ll pay upwards of £2,302 return. But opt for the 9.40pm flight on Christmas Day and you’ll save yourself more than £1,000.

Of course, you could avoid Christmas Day entirely by opting for the Air New Zealand service from Heathrow to Auckland, via Los Angeles: departing on Christmas Eve, it touches down in LA the same day, local time, before taking off again that evening and crossing the International Date Line before it reaches New Zealand, where the calendar jumps straight to Boxing Day.

I have never gone to that extreme, because I love Christmas. But the best present I could hope for is a plane ticket somewhere else.