More than 9 million Southland residents are planning end-of-year getaways, the largest travel volume on record for the Christmas-New Year holiday period, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
More than 88 percent of local and statewide travelers are expected to drive to their destinations, while 8.5 percent will fly and 3 percent will go by other means, such as train, bus or cruise, said an AAA statement. The Auto Club considers the year-end holiday period to be the 12 days from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1.
The 9.05 million Southern Californians expected to travel over the holidays represents an increase of 4.4% over 2018, according to the AAA. Eight million of then will travel by car — 4.3% more than in 2018 — while 768,000 will fly, 6.4% more than last year, and 278,000 others will use other means, 2.3% more than last year.
“With unemployment at record lows and household net worth at record highs, more Americans and Southern Californians are feeling able to afford holiday vacations,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services.
The Auto Club expects to come to the rescue of more than 246,000 motorists statewide over this holiday period, according to the AAA statement. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the top reasons for member calls.
Because of the extended holiday period and end-of-year business and school closures, traffic congestion is not expected to be as big a factor for holiday travelers as it is for Thanksgiving and three-day-weekend holidays. Based on historical and recent travel trends, the Auto Club expects drivers to experience the greatest congestion in the afternoon and evening of Thursday, Dec. 26 and Friday, Dec. 27.
Eastbound Interstate 10 between Santa Monica and the Interstate 5 interchange is expected to see 2.8 times more traffic than normal on the evening of Dec. 26. The Auto Club advises travelers to leave either very early in the morning or immediately after the normal morning commute to avoid traffic.
Southern California gas prices are continuing to drop at a rapid pace, but are still about 25 cents higher per gallon than at this time last year. As the holiday period draws closer, the Auto Club expects more gas stations to post prices for regular unleaded below $3 a gallon.
The AAA’s Filomena Andre recommends that air travelers arrive at the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights, particularly if their departure is on the three most congested days for flights — Saturday, Dec. 21, Sunday, Dec. 22 and Monday, Dec. 23.
Anaheim is expected to be the No. 2 destination nationwide for travelers, according to AAA Travel booking data, with Orlando at No. 1. The top 5 destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a survey of Auto Club travel agents, are, in this order, Las Vegas, San Diego, Central Coast (Santa Barbara to Monterey), the Grand Canyon, and Mexico (cruises and resort trips).
The top air destination for Southern California travelers is Hawaii, and nationally, Oahu is the third most popular destination and Maui is No. 4.
Los Angeles International Airport officials, meanwhile, warned that the major rush of air travelers is still to come.
Airport officials said 5.9 million people are expected to pass through the airport during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel period, which, as airport officials measure it, began last Friday and will continue through Jan. 6.
The busiest — or “super peak” days — are expected to include Thursday, Sunday, Monday, the day after Christmas, Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.
Airport officials said the real travel crunch will begin Thursday, when more than 247,000 people are expected to descend on the airport. As usual, authorities urged travelers to bring plenty of patience, and to arrive early.
Parking is also likely to be tight at the airport, so travelers should check LAX’s @FlyLAXstats Twitter feed to get real-time updates on availability of spaces. Travelers are also being urged to take alternate forms of transportation to the airport, such as FlyAway bus service from Hollywood, Union Station and Van Nuys.
Transportation Security Administration officials also advised passengers to be patient, and to adhere to requirements for carry-on items to keep screening lines moving.
“TSA here at LAX expects to screen more than 2.3 million travelers leading up to the Christmas holiday through the first week of January,” said Keith Jeffries, TSA federal security director at LAX. “And as always, TSA will be working closely with our airport, airline and law enforcement partners to ensure a smooth operation during this busy season.”
Most notably, TSA officials said people traveling with Christmas presents should leave them unwrapped because such packages are subject to search.
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