The Fourth of July holiday travel crush will begin peaking Thursday, as millions of California residents embark on weekend trips -- meaning potential freeway delays and long waits in airport security lines.
The Automobile Club of Southern California estimates that 3.3 million Southern California residents will travel over the weekend -- with the holiday travel period officially beginning Thursday and continuing through Monday.
The estimated number of people traveling is up roughly 46% from last year's pandemic-impacted Independence Day weekend and just 5.6% below the pre-pandemic holiday in 2019.
Of those who are traveling, 2.8 million, or roughly 86%, are expected to travel by car, with 13% flying and the rest relying on some other means of transportation.
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"Car and air travel each are showing growing strength this Fourth of July holiday weekend because many states have reduced or eliminated COVID-19 restrictions," said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club's vice president for travel. "We expect car travel to be the highest on record and air travel to be the third-highest amount since AAA started tracking data in 2001."
The large numbers of people driving to their destinations comes despite soaring gas prices that are reaching levels not seen at least six years. The average price of a gallon of gas in Southern California already tops $4 a gallon.
People who opt to fly may find themselves in long security lines at Los Angeles International Airport, which is slowly returning to pre pandemic passenger levels. Airport officials said Tuesday that May passenger volume at LAX topped 4 million, the most since February 2020 and a more than 600% increase from last May.
Passenger traffic overall is currently estimated at about 63% of the level seen at the same time in 2019, but airport officials warned travelers to plan ahead and arrive early. An average of 76,000 people a day are passing through security screening stations at the airport, and nine of the top 10 busiest days of the past year occurred during June. On Sunday, 87,410 people passed through security screening, with higher numbers anticipated over the weekend.
The top five destinations for Southern California travelers over the holiday weekend are expected to be Las Vegas, San Diego, Zion/Bryce Canyon National Parks, Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park.
Statewide, the Auto Club predicts 5.36 million people will travel for the holiday, with 4.6 million going by car and 669,314 flying.