MILLIONS face Christmas chaos today on the roads, railways and at airports for the great holiday getaway.
Motoring groups warned of nightmare traffic conditions as more than 10 million road journeys are made over the next two days.
Rail unions claimed passengers had suffered a “pre-Christmas fortnight from hell” caused by closures on an over-stretched network.
Airports are also expected to be busy, with about four million travellers heading abroad during Christmas and New Year.
Stores are expecting a final rush for gifts and food for the holiday period.
Furious Marks & Spencer customers yesterday complained after being forced to wait up to two hours for pre-ordered items.
At the Handforth Dean store in Cheshire, staff handed out mince pies to calm unhappy shoppers.
In Newport, South Wales, customers were said to be “going berserk” when up to 200 people queued for turkeys at the Spytty Retail Park branch.
Customer Matt Capel was handed his items at 11am – two hours after his pre-booked slot for collection.
He said: “I had to call into work and apologise for the time I had taken and missed the morning meeting at 10.30am. The customers in line waiting were getting more and more annoyed as the line slowly moved.”
A Marks & Spencer spokeswoman said: “Our teams are working hard to ensure any waiting customers are looked after and can collect their order as quickly as possible.”
Bluewater shopping centre in Kent expects a busy day but predicted “shopping as usual” after this week’s traffic debacle.
Police had to be called to the mall near Greenhithe, on Monday after the sheer number of shoppers led to a six-hour wait for drivers trying to exit the car parks.
On the M6 in the West Midlands, a lorry driver escaped death by seconds yesterday after getting out of his broken-down vehicle just seconds before a car transporter smashed into it.
The ambulance service said miraculously both drivers were unhurt.
Motoring organisations have warned that the difficult conditions would continue despite a scheme to remove roadworks.
The RAC predicted that Christmas Eve would be the busiest day, with 4.1 million journeys planned.
Spokesman Rod Dennis said: “Around 11 million car journeys will take place between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.”
Traffic information supplier Inrix said some of the most congested routes would be the Merstham Interchange on the M25, in Surrey, the A4 in West London and the M5 southbound in Gloucestershire.
National Express said it had made an extra 77,000 seats available over the Christmas period.
Fresh problems on the railway yesterday included a signalling fault near Chippenham which caused disruption to journeys between Bristol and Swindon.
A temporary shortage of train crew again caused disruption to Southern services.
Among the lines affected by closures would be rail links to Britain’s two busiest airports.
Officials said that at Heathrow, the usual one-day closure on Christmas Day will be extended by three days due to Crossrail works.
Disruption at Gatwick will last even longer, with the main line serving the airport blocked for 10 days due to engineering works.