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More people are flying to visit friends and relatives than ever before, new figures reveal.
The number of visits to friends and relatives (VFRs) to and from the UK by air increased by almost 230,000 to 19.03 million last year from the pre-recession high in 2008, and a 23% increase since 2010.
More than half (58%) of the total visits last year (11.06 million) were made by UK residents to friends and family living abroad. Two thirds of those visits (7.26 million) were made to European destinations and one third (3.81 million) were to the rest of the world.
Forty two percent of the total (7.97 million) were made by overseas residents to the UK in 2014. Sixty eight percent of those visits (5.44 million) were made by people living in Europe, while 32% (2.53 million) were from the rest of the world.
The study reveals that £4.07 billion was spent in the UK by overseas residents who were visiting their friends and relatives last year.
VFRs both to and from the UK have increased since 2010, but visits by UK residents overseas have increased at a faster rate – 26% (from 8.8 million to 11.06 million) compared with 19% (from 6.72 million to 7.97 million) for overseas residents to the UK.
The figures come from mew analysis by the British Air Transport Association (Bata) of official travel statistics and show that 83% of visits are made by air.
Just 10% are made by sea and 7% by rail through the Channel Tunnel. Even for journeys to and from other parts of Europe, flying accounts for 77% of visits, compared with 14% by sea and 9% by rail.
Luton airport had the highest proportion of VFR journeys at 48% in 2013, according to the latest Civil Aviation Authority passenger survey data.
Stansted had the second highest proportion of VFR traffic followed by Inverness, Birmingham, Heathrow, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London City, Gatwick, East Midlands, Newcastle, Manchester and Aberdeen.
Bata chief executive, Nathan Stower, said: “While recent debate has focused on the economic benefits and environmental challenges of aviation growth, the social benefits of aviation should not be ignored.
“Air travel allows people who live in different parts of the country and different corners of the world to meet up with their family and friends.
“Communication technology may have improved and expanded in use significantly in recent years, but it’s clear that nothing can replace being with your nearest and dearest.”