Southern Californians aren’t letting high prices, packed freeways or myriad labor protests stop them from hitting the road for Thanksgiving.
Pamela Harrison in Canyon Country is among the 4.6 million Southern Californians expected to travel by car in the days surrounding the holiday.
The 62-year-old is only mildly concerned about gassing up for her trek to see family in Arizona. “I try not to let my tank go below half because prices can go up at any time,” she said.
If the Automobile Club of Southern California’s estimates hold up, it will be a record-setting year for the holiday week.
The vast majority, the club says, will travel by car, with another 566,000 taking to the skies and 120,000 taking a bus, train or cruise ship.
An unofficial poll of Southern California moms on a popular Facebook group showed many families are either sticking close to home or driving to destinations. Popular destinations included Utah, Nevada and Northern California.
“Too difficult to get a flight that wasn’t over the top expensive and a road trip sounded better,” said Mandy Dunkle, who lives in south Orange County.
Some said they’ll brave air travel for Christmas instead, including Marielle Torres who said she’s avoiding crowds this week. “Definitely also staying off the freeways from OC to LA and SD later this week because I have no patience at all for extremely congested traffic, especially on holidays.”
Depending on the transportation, travelers could see some price breaks.
Gas prices fall
Filling up is somewhat cheaper this holiday with gas prices averaging 30 cents a gallon less than last year, the Auto Club said. Prices have been dropping since October with the state average hovering just below $5 a gallon.
Jaime Sagastume, who stopped at an Arco in Santa Clarita, paid $5.39 a gallon to fill up his Chevy Silverado. His eyepopping fillup price of $170 wasn’t the only reason he’s opted not to travel this Thanksgiving holiday.
“I learned my lesson last year,” the 43-year-old Arleta resident said. “I went to San Francisco and it took me 11 hours to get there.”
Data from transportation analytics firm INRIX show the busiest time for Southland freeways will be the afternoon and evening of Wednesday, Nov. 22. The drive on the 5 Freeway between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, for example, is projected to take 88% longer than normal with a three-hour travel time.
Gas prices were considerably lower this week at some outlets, including a Sam’s Club in Long Beach where regular was selling for $4.29 a gallon, according to LosAngelesGasPrices.com.
Marie Montgomery, the public affairs specialist with the Auto Club, said price-weary motorists have gotten used to pain at the pump.
“I think the mental threshold for people is higher,” she said.
Domestic car rental reservations are averaging $590, down 20% from 2022, AAA said, and the average price for a U.S. cruise is $1,507, down 12% compared with last year.
Montgomery attributed lower car rental costs to more vehicles being on hand.
“Last year we had production problems getting the computer chips for cars, so there was a shortage of rentals,” she said.
Additional AAA data shows the average booking price for a domestic airline flight in November and December is $681, up 5% from 2022. But international flights are averaging $1,231, down 5.7% from last year.
Airports will be buzzing
Traffic at Southern California airports is expected to be heavy.
Los Angeles International Airport officials expect up to 2.5 million travelers to pass through the airport Nov. 16-27 — nearly 300,000 more than last year.
It should be noted that AAA defines the Thanksgiving holiday travel period as Nov. 22-26.
“Passenger traffic at LAX is at about 91.5% compared with 2019,” airport spokeswoman Victoria Spilabotte said last Wednesday. “We expect the busiest days during the holiday travel period to be Nov. 17 with about 226,900 passengers, Nov. 19 with about 230,000 passengers, and Nov. 26 with about 225,000 passengers.”
Officials at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana and Hollywood Burbank Airport also expect heavy business.
“We want to make people aware that this entire year has been very busy,” John Wayne spokeswoman AnnaSophia Servin said. “We’re advising travelers to check their flight status before arriving and also be aware of parking availability.”
The airport doesn’t offer travel predictions, but 2022 statistics show 411,000 people passed through John Wayne from the Friday before Thanksgiving through the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, up from 329,402 in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
Passengers traveling through area airports are encouraged to arrive 90 minutes to two hours before their scheduled departure times for domestic flights and three hours for international flights to find parking, check luggage and go through security screening.
A recent report from Upgraded Points shows the average holiday wait time to get through the security checkpoint at LAX is 4.3 minutes, although that drops to 1.3 minutes for travelers with TSA pre-check status.
At John Wayne, the standard wait is 6.8 minutes, or 2 minutes using TSA pre-check, and at Hollywood Burbank, the standard wait is 5 minutes, or 2.1 minutes with TSA pre-check.
Airlines for America, an industry group representing American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and others, forecasts 29.9 million passengers will be flying between Nov. 17-27. That would be an all-time high — up 9% over the 27.5 million who traveled during the same period last year, and up 1.7 million passengers over pre-COVID levels.
Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer, offers a few tips to avoid significant flight delays and cancellations:
Consider the weather at both airports: Poor weather is common during the holiday season, and it often leads to major airport disruptions, including significant delays and cancellations.
Sign up for your airline’s text and email alerts: It’s important to find out as soon as possible if your flight is delayed or canceled so you can find other available flights.
AAA offers a couple more tips for those taking to the road:
Identify alternate routes: That’s in case you encounter congestion or road closures.
Leave early and allow extra time: That gives you more time to get to your destination, so you’re not in a rush.
Source: Orange County Register