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Crowds, Fourth of July commuters head out despite high gas prices

Despite soaring gas prices and the threat of delayed or canceled flights, experts are predicting that travelers will be out this holiday weekend at record highs before the pandemic and in some cases.

Experts with the American Automobile Assn. 42 million people across the US hit the road during the Fourth of July weekend, traveling to destinations 50 or more miles from home, a nationwide record for automobile travel.

In Southern California, 2.7 million people hit the road for the trip Thursday through Monday, AAA spokeswoman Annlyn Venegas said. The region’s prospects are significantly higher than last year, but still lower than 2018 or 2019, he said.

“People are finally taking those trips that they haven’t been able to take for the past two years, and nothing seems to be stopping them,” Venegas said. “We believe July will represent a peak [travel] This year’s consumption, which means gas prices will rise because of that demand.

Californians are already paying the highest prices in the country at the pump, exacerbated by the state’s annual gas tax increase that took effect Friday. Already competing with some of the highest gas prices in the nation, residents will pay another 3 cents per gallon.

The total number of Southern Californians traveling this weekend — which includes those traveling by air, rail, cruise and other modes — should reach 3.3 million, the third-highest travel volume in the region’s history for this weekend, behind only 2018 and 2019.

Nationwide, AAA expects 48 million total passengers over the Independence Day extended weekend, an increase of about 4% from last year but still below 2019 levels.

A rush of out-of-town travelers for the Fourth of July holiday weekend at Los Angeles International Airport.

A rush of out-of-town travelers for the Fourth of July holiday weekend at Los Angeles International Airport.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Although air travel isn’t expected to see as big a boost as roadways, officials at LAX are warning of overcrowding and increased passengers. On Thursday, the airport saw more than 100,000 people go through security for departing flights, with numbers expected to remain steady or increase through Wednesday, LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery said.

“We’re about 75% through 2019 and 2019 is going to be a record year for us,” Montgomery said. Much of that lagging 25% is related to international travel, he said, especially since much of Asia has yet to return to travel. Some domestic airlines are still struggling with staffing issues, which are affecting some domestic flights, he said.

On Thursday, 31 flights were canceled in or out of LAX, about 2% of total flights, Montgomery said. As of 9:30 a.m. Friday, there were three cancellations and nine flight delays. Montgomery said those numbers are expected to rise, however, as the day continues due to afternoon thunderstorms that typically affect travel in other parts of the nation.

Montgomery advises travelers to arrive at the airport early to accommodate the expected increase in traffic and recommends booking parking in advance through parking.flylax.com. Many destinations are already close to capacity, and airport officials expect heavy travel days on Friday, Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

But on Friday morning, the airport was yet to experience crazy crowds or difficult traffic.

Samuel Tesfa was waiting with friends near ticketing Friday morning, surprised by the lack of commotion around the LAX departures terminal. He said he was traveling to play in a soccer tournament, and he and his team made sure to get to LAX early from San Diego.

“I’m waiting until we pre-check to see how busy it is, but right now it doesn’t look too bad,” Tesfa said.

AAA surveys show Anaheim is the nation’s fourth most popular tourist destination this weekend, behind Orlando, Seattle and New York City. Las Vegas, San Diego, the Grand Canyon, and Mexico are top travel destinations in Southern California.

Times intern Rebecca Schneid contributed to this report.

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