More than 55 million Americans -- including 7 million Californians, 4.3 million of them from the Southland -- plan to travel 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
This will be the highest Thanksgiving volume on record for California travel and the second-highest travel volume nationally since AAA began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005, the AAA said in a statement.
Of the 4.3 million Southern Californians expected to take Thanksgiving trips, 3.7 million will travel by car, 500,000 by aircraft and 123,800 will rely on other modes of travel, including buses and cruise ships.
"This is the fourth Thanksgiving holiday period in a row that the percentage growth in air travel for Californians is higher than the growth in car travel, indicating continued consumer confidence in spending more for holiday trips," said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring. "That's despite an average 7% increase in airfares over last year.
"Because of the increased number of travelers and the Thanksgiving holiday traffic, we strongly urge air travelers to allow both extra time to get to the airport and plenty of extra time to get through security," he said.
Los Angeles International Airport is expecting as many as 246,000 travelers on a single day. All told, LAX is projecting a record 3.2 million travelers over the 15 day holiday period it tracks from November 20th through December 3rd. That would be a few thousand more than last year's total.
"There's going to be crowds. There's going to be lines," warned Michael Christensen, LAX Deputy Executive Director. He advised travelers to add an hour to the usual rule of thumb for airport arrival: two hours before a domestic flight, three hours before international. Christensen suggested before heading to LAX, travelers can get an update on Twitter @FLyLAXStats.
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Starting Sunday, LAX will offer new shuttle service to and from Santa Monica and Century City, and increase the frequency of buses on all four of the flyaway routes.
To reduce traffic in the central terminal area, LAX last month diverted taxi and ride share pickups to a location called LAX-it, on the property that was rented for Park 'N Fly@Park One, just east of terminal one. Christensen believes it will be able to handle the added holiday volume, but said overflow space is available on the property and can be used if needs be.
LAX has also set up a dedicated Traffic Management Center which can make adjustments to improve flow.
The top destinations nationwide are Orlando, Anaheim, New York City, Las Vegas and Honolulu. The top five destinations for Southern California residents, according to a poll of Auto Club travel agents, are Las Vegas, San Diego, Mexico (cruises and resorts), the Grand Canyon and Lake Tahoe. The top air destination for Southern Californians is Hawaii.
For the 49.3 million Americans traveling by automobile, major delays are predicted to occur throughout the week, peaking Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon and evening, with trips taking as much as five times longer because of commuter traffic mixing with travelers, AAA said in a statement.
AAA expects to help 100,000 stranded drivers in California and more than 368,000 at the roadside across the country during this Thanksgiving holiday, it said. Dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts will be the main reasons for members to call AAA for a roadside rescue.
AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.
For air travelers, the Auto Club recommends that they check the terms and conditions of their airfare before encountering unpleasant surprises at the airport. Some airlines now charge for seat selection and carry-on luggage as well as checked luggage, and some discount airlines charge travelers for printing their boarding passes at the airport instead of at home.
Flight change fees and policies have also become more restrictive in recent years. In many cases you can avoid additional airline fees by packing light, pre-loading movies and shows on your tablets and smartphones to avoid WiFi costs, and packing your own snacks, pillow or blanket.
Holiday road trippers should budget more for a rental car this year, which have reached their highest prices on record for the Thanksgiving holiday since 1999, at $75 per day. Travelers will also pay a bit more at AAA Two Diamond hotels, where prices are 1% more than last year, or $125 per night.
Conversely, the average rate for AAA Three Diamond hotels has fallen 5% to an average nightly cost of $158.
Southern California gas prices are more than 30 cents a gallon higher than at this time last year, but they should continue dropping through the Thanksgiving holiday into December, according to the Auto Club.