LOS ANGELES - Southland freeways and airports started getting a lot busier Thursday, as the holiday getaway began for millions of residents traveling for the Fourth of July weekend.
The Automobile Club of Southern California estimates that nearly 3.3 million SoCal residents will be traveling for the holiday, the third-highest number for a Fourth of July holiday, behind only 2019 and 2018.
According to the Auto Club, 2.7 million Southern Californians will drive to their destinations for the long weekend, while 426,000 will fly. About 168,000 will travel by other means, such as bus, train or cruise ship.
Los Angeles International Airport officials said they expect to see as many as 115,000 departing passengers passing through the airport each day Thursday through Saturday, and again next Tuesday and Wednesday. As many as 90,000 departing passengers are anticipated on Sunday and Monday.
"We expect the Independence Day holiday weekend to be the busiest we've had in more than two years, and we want to make sure our guests know about the tools available that can make every part of their journey easier and faster," Justin Erbacci, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, said in a statement.
"Spending just a few minutes online to check traffic conditions, pre- book parking and review any recent communications from your airline can ensure you have a great start or end to your summer vacation."
Airport officials urged travelers to arrive early and check traffic conditions in the terminal area using the Twitter site @FlyLAXstats. Travelers were also urged to book airport parking in advance at parking.flylax.com.
As the holiday travel period began, dozens of off-duty Delta Air Lines pilots took part in a two-hour picketing event at LAX Thursday, part of a nationwide labor action calling for an improved contract. Representatives for the pilots say the action is aimed at obtaining improved pay, better scheduling and work conditions. Delta officials issued a statement saying the picketing would not impact flight operations, because all of the participating pilots are off-duty.
The pilots at LAX did not appear to be impacting traffic in the terminal area, mainly standing on the curb holding signs.
At Ontario International Airport, passenger traffic is expected to be 13% higher than it was during the July 4 holiday period in 2019. More than 75,000 travelers are anticipated from July 1-5, an increase of 66,727 passengers who flew into and out of Ontario during the same period three years ago, according to Ontario International Airport Authority officials.
"Demand for air travel in Southern California remains strong, even more so at Ontario where we have surpassed pre-pandemic passenger totals for several months," said Atif Elkadi, chief executive officer of the Ontario International Airport Authority. "We recognize that the resurgence of air travel has not been as smooth for some in the industry, but we're well prepared and ready to serve our customers with a stress-free, passenger-friendly experience that is our hallmark."
Elkadi said travelers driving to Ontario airport can take advantage of the online reservation system to pre-book parking at discounted rates close to the airport's passenger terminals.
Across the country, 48 million people are expected to be traveling for the holiday, according to the Auto Club, with the vast majority reaching their destination by driving -- despite near-record-high gas prices.
The top destinations for Southern California residents are expected to be Las Vegas, San Diego, the Grand Canyon, Mexico and Yosemite.
Some people are also likely to be traveling overseas.
"We expect that the recent lifting of the COVID testing requirement for air passengers re-entering the U.S. will continue the increase in demand for international vacation bookings that we are already seeing this summer," Heather Felix, the Auto Club's vice president of travel products and services, said in a statement.
For people driving, the transportation-analytics firm INRIX recommended that motorists avoid driving on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, which are expected to be the busiest travel times, with the 5, 10, 405 and 57 freeways anticipated to be the most congested. INRIX recommended that people do their driving early in the morning.