If you’re flying out of Los Angeles International Airport during the Thanksgiving holiday, brace yourself for huge crowds, long lines and a challenge finding parking.
Officials at LAX — the nation’s second-busiest airport — are preparing for the heaviest Thanksgiving traffic since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 200,000 passengers expected daily from Friday through the following 10 days.
Passenger travel is projected to peak on Nov. 27 — the Sunday after Thanksgiving — when more than 215,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport, according to a news release from Los Angeles World Airports.
These numbers are just slightly below the record-breaking 2019 Thanksgiving travel volume, and about 20,000 more passengers per day compared with 2021, airport spokesperson Heath Montgomery said.
“We are asking travelers to do their part to create a stress-free experience by planning their parking, arriving extra early and taking time to relax at the gate instead of circling with traffic,” said Justin Erbacci, chief executive of Los Angeles World Airports. “Our parking garages will be full and traffic will be heavy, so we are providing the tools for travelers to plan ahead for the best experience.”
Travelers are urged to prebook parking spaces online, as spots in the economy lots and central terminal garages are “likely to sell out.” Passengers flying on United and Southwest can also use the LAX Fast Lane program, which allows travelers on those airlines in Terminals 1, 7 and 8 to reserve — for free — a 15-minute window to go through security checkpoints in a faster, dedicated lane.
LAX officials said they expect the airport to be the busiest from 5 to 7 a.m. and from 9 to 10 a.m. each day.
On Friday afternoon, traffic remained slightly congested for people getting to and from terminals, and parking lots were filling up, but travelers in check-in and security lines appeared to be moving.
“I always feel like it’s going to be a nightmare, but it wasn’t at all,” said Julie Hollmer, who flew in from Wisconsin to spend the holiday week with her daughter. “But I did come early because of the holidays.”
Other travelers at LAX on Friday said they didn’t notice any issues with crowds, though Tony Fields said he made sure to arrive plenty early for his flight home to Denver.
“Hopefully it won’t be that bad,” Fields said, though he noted he was worried about how snow in his hometown might affect his flight. He said he made sure he wouldn’t be traveling this weekend through Wednesday, when he thought travel would be the most hectic.
“I try to avoid it,” Fields, 56, said.
While Los Angeles County officials advised residents this week to again wear masks while in indoor public spaces — as COVID-19 transmission has started to increase — many travelers and LAX employees were not wearing masks Friday.
Jinsei Goto, 23, flew back from Japan on Friday, and though he said he wore his mask on the plane and during his time abroad — he said it was required by the airline — he took it off while waiting for a ride at LAX.
“I started to gradually notice people started to take it off because the staff were not wearing it [back in L.A.],” Goto said. “People were more lax about it.”
Road trips are also projected to spike over the holiday weekend, with the American Automobile Assn. predicting 54.6 million people nationwide will be traveling from Nov. 23-27, with the vast majority driving to their destinations. It would be the third-busiest Thanksgiving travel weekend since 2000, only behind 2019 and 2005, according to AAA.
Los Angeles highways are likely to be among the nation’s busiest, AAA predicted, and drivers should prepare for more than double the normal delays depending on the time of travel.
Retail stores and malls are also expected to be crowded. The National Retail Federation predicts a record-breaking number of shoppers, both in brick-and-mortar stores and online, from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. Black Friday remains the most popular day to shop, but the federation estimates 166.3 million people will shop over the five-day period, almost 8 million more people than last year and the highest since the organization began such estimates in 2017.