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Pack Some Patience: Memorial Day Travel Crunch Begins

Published on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 | 12:16 pm

The Memorial Day weekend holiday travel crunch began ramping up Wednesday as people looked to get a jump on what could be one of the busiest travel periods since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The official holiday travel period begins Thursday, but in anticipation of the crunch, Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday will open a second cell phone waiting lot, hoping to encourage more people to wait for arriving passengers there rather than circling through the Central Terminal Area.

The secondary cell phone lot is at 96th Street and Alverstone Avenue. The original cell phone lot is at 96th and Vicksburg Avenue.

LAX officials estimate that 1.2 million passengers could pass through the airport between Wednesday and Monday. Thursday’s travel numbers alone could surpass 218,000 passengers, officials said, which would be the busiest day at the airport since March 2020.

The Automobile Club of Southern California predicted earlier that 3.3 million Southern California residents will be traveling over Memorial Day weekend.

That figure is 7.7% higher than last year, and roughly a one-half percentage point increase from 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports,” Heather Felix, the Auto Club’s vice president of travel products, said in a statement. “Despite higher ticket prices than last year, demand for flights is skyrocketing and this Memorial Day weekend could be the busiest at airports since 2005.”

According to the Auto Club, 2.8 million Southern Californians are expected to travel via automobile to their destination, while 358,000 will fly and 230,000 will travel by other means, such as bus, train or cruise ship.

Nationally, the Auto Club predicted that 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the holiday weekend, up 7% from last year but 1% below the number from 2019.

The Auto Club defines the holiday travel period as beginning Thursday and continuing through Memorial Day.

The transportation data-analysis service INRIX predicts that Friday will be the busiest day on the roads nationally. People traveling by car were advised to leave either early in the morning or after 6 p.m. Locally, the peak congestion over the long weekend is anticipated to occur Sunday afternoon on the Golden State (5) Freeway between Los Angeles and San Diego, with an estimated travel time of three hours and 24 minutes — 47% longer than usual.

For Southern Californians, the top destinations for travelers are expected to be Las Vegas, San Diego, Santa Barbara, the Grand Canyon and Palm Springs.

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