Getaway day in LA: Millions hit freeways, LAX for holiday travel

Millions of people took to Southland freeways and airways on Wednesday as they embarked on Thanksgiving holiday trips, making life difficult for both travelers and people simply trying to get home on a Wednesday afternoon.

As of mid-afternoon, Los Angeles International Airport officials reported heavy traffic in the central terminal area as holiday revelers struggled to reach their gates in time for the flights -- or people tried to get to the terminals to pick up visitors.

Meanwhile, a scan of an area traffic map showed jammed freeways along major routes such as the Golden State/Santa Ana (5), Santa Monica/San Bernardino (10), Hollywood (101/170), San Diego (405) and Ventura (134/101) freeways.

Airport officials estimated that 2.3 million people will have passed through LAX between last Friday and Nov. 28. Projected to be the busiest days of the Thanksgiving period at the airport were last Friday, Wednesday, Sunday and Monday. Between 215,000 and 232,000 passengers are expected at the airport on those days.

On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, 162,000 to 190,000 people are expected to pass through the airport each day.

LAX is predicted to be the third busiest airport in the country, behind only Atlanta and Chicago, but the busiest "origin-and-destination'' airport, meaning more people will start or end their travels at LAX than any other airport.

Airport officials urged passengers to use public transit or shuttles to reach the airport, with traffic in the Central Terminal Area expected to be heavily congested. Passengers were urged to arrive at least two hours early for domestic flights, and three hours before international flights.

The Automobile Club of Southern California predicted that about 3.65 million Southern California residents will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, up 3.1 percent from 2015, when 3.54 million took Thanksgiving trips. The projected number of Southland travelers this year is the highest since 2007, when the number stood at 3.99 million, according to the Auto Club.

About 86 percent of this year's Southland travelers, or 3.14 million, will drive to their destinations -- a 3.4 percent increase over last year's 3.04 million car travelers, it said. Air travel for Southern Californians is expected to increase by 1.6 percent over last year to 389,000, while travel by other means -- such as bus, ship or train -- is expected to increase by 1.1 percent to 121,000.

Statewide, nearly 5.9 million residents are expected to travel over Thanksgiving weekend, an increase of 3.1 percent over last year's 5.7 million travelers, the AAA said. Slightly more than 5 million Californians are expected to drive to their destinations -- a 3.4 percent increase over 2015 -- while 617,000 will fly, a 1.6 percent jump. About 196,000 residents statewide will travel by other means.

Nationwide, 48.7 million travelers are expected this Thanksgiving weekend -- a 1.9 percent year-over-year increase and the highest number of U.S. Thanksgiving travelers since 2007, according to the AAA.

The Auto Club attributed this year's increase in the projected number of travelers to more disposable income, higher wages and increased consumer confidence. And while current gas price averages are similar to those at the same time a year ago, they have been significantly lower in 2016 than in any year since the 2008-09 recession.

According to a survey of the Auto Club's travel agents, the top five destinations for Southern California Thanksgiving travelers this year are -- in the following order -- Las Vegas, San Diego, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Las Vegas is also the No.1 destination for the nation, and San Diego is No. 3.

Copyright 2016 FOX 11 Los Angeles: Download our mobile app for breaking news alerts or to watch FOX 11 News | Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Be a citizen journalist for FOX 11 and get paid - download the Fresco News App today.