Holiday Travel Roars Back in Southern California

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

Call it revenge travel.

Nearly two years after COVID-19 first reared its head in the U.S., Southern Californians are eager to make up for the holiday trips they canceled or put on hold last year.

Despite a reinstated mask mandate, social-distancing guidelines and the spread of the omicron variant, travelers say they’re anxious to get out of town.

It’s expected to be the region’s third busiest holiday travel season on record.

Nearly 8.8 million will be traveling
Figures from the Automobile Club of Southern California show nearly 8.8 million Southland residents are expected to take holiday trips this year — a 37% increase over 2020 and down just 6% from 2019.

The Auto Club predicts 7.8 Southern Californians will travel by car, 771,000 will fly and another 213,000 will use other means of transportation, such as trains and buses or cruise ships.

Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s president of travel products and services, said many people were wary of travel this time last year as a new wave of the pandemic hit without widespread vaccination availability.

But things are different this time around.

“After most people have gotten vaccinated, travelers are mindful of the continued need for caution and the new omicron variant, but have greater confidence in taking long-awaited family vacations,” Andre said in a statement.

Gas prices and airfares are high
Those taking to the roads will face the highest holiday gas prices ever. On Friday, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in California was $4.67 — $1.46 higher than a year ago, according to price tracker gasbuddy.com.

The top five destinations for Southern California travelers are La Vegas, San Diego, Anaheim, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, according to the Auto Club.

Gas prices are high, but airfares will burn an even bigger hole in travelers’ wallets. Hopper, an airfare tracking app, said the average domestic airfare for holiday travel this year is $390, 55% higher than 2020 and on par with 2019.

Tyler Acord is already facing airfare inflation. On Thursday morning, the 31-year-old Reseda resident arrived two hours early at LAX for a flight to Chicago and later to Seattle to visit family.

“I’m pretty shocked by how much it’s gone up,” he said. “A roundtrip flight to Seattle has usually been around $220, but this time it’s just over $600. I wasn’t planning to spend that much to fly this year. I guess it will cramp my ability to buy Christmas gifts.”

Airports will be buzzing
Los Angeles International Airport officials predict up to 3.5 million passengers will move through the airport during the winter holiday travel season, which kicked off Thursday, Dec. 16, running through Jan. 3.

That’s nearly double the 1.85 million passengers who went through LAX in 2020 but down from 4.5 million travelers in 2019.

The airport’s busiest days are expected to be Dec. 17, 19, 26, and Jan. 2, with more than 200,000 people traveling each of those days.

Ontario International Airport is expecting more than 271,000 passengers over the winter holidays, or 93% of the number of passengers who traveled through ONT during the same period in 2019.

Officials at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana said the airport is anticipating an increase in air travel based on past holiday statistics. During the period running from Dec. 5 through Dec. 11 passenger traffic reached 96% of the level it hit during the same period in 2019, the airport said.

San Clemente resident Eva Kohn and her family flew late last week on a holiday ski trip in Park City, Utah.

Caution for Kohn, her husband, and two teenage children was top of mind. They are all vaccinated and also wore N-95 masks for the plane ride. Kohn said her family of avid skiers will likely order takeout after hitting the slopes.

“The omicron data is too premature to know if it’s truly mild,” she said.

Her field of work is helping to develop antimicrobial coatings, which she’ll use on her masks for the trips there and home. But for now, the holiday spirit is high.

“I’m always excited to go to the mountains and be in the snow,” Kohn said. “Mountain places really get me into the holiday spirit.”

Parking challenges
LAWA spokesman Heath Montgomery said one of the biggest challenges for travelers flying out of LAX is finding parking.

“There has been a shift this year,” he said. “More people are driving to LAX and parking instead of taking a shuttle bus, Uber or having a friend drop them off. That has led to very full parking garages, especially on weekends. On Thanksgiving weekend everything was full.”

Travelers can avoid that anxiety by reserving a parking space ahead of time through the parking.flylax.com app, Montgomery said.

“You put in your flight information and it will make suggestions on where you can park, with pricing for all of the lots,” he said. “You can also get discounts, depending on how far in advance you book it.”

Jane Skeeter of West Hills doesn’t plan to travel this holiday season, although she recently took an overseas excursion.

“I went to Italy in October and felt very safe because I had been vaccinated and also had a booster shot,” she said. “I had a COVID test on the way there and on the way back, but I wouldn’t know what to expect now with cases of the new variant exploding.”

U.S. air travel is bouncing back
On a broader scale, AAA predicts that more than 109 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, an increase of nearly 34% from 2020. That would push this year’s nationwide numbers to 92% of 2019 levels.

Category: Travel and Tourism, transportation, COVID-19, California, Southern California