Andrea Jacob spent five hours Thursday afternoon trying to figure out if she’d make her Newark to John Wayne Airport flight, destined for a family trip this holiday weekend to Yosemite.
Long story short, she didn’t make it.
Instead, the 25-year-old New York resident gave up her seat so another woman could get home to her kids.
Jacob, whose family lives in Irvine, is one of thousands of frustrated travelers stuck at U.S. airports bogged down by overbookings and weather delays in the Northeast. For her troubles, she got a $1,500 voucher and hotel money from United Airlines, which rebooked her on a July 2 flight.
The long holiday weekend looks a lot sunnier for the millions of Southern California residents who will venture out by car.
Industry experts say it will be the region’s second-busiest Independence Day weekend ever.
The Auto Club of Southern California expects more than 3.4 million Southern Californians will travel over the July 4 holiday weekend. That includes 517,000 who will be flying, 2.7 million who will be driving and 253,000 who will travel by buses, trains and cruise ships.
“Travel demand has been steadily increasing since 2020, and this summer is poised to be one for the record books,” said Heather Felix, the Auto Club’s vice president of travel products and services.
Lower gas prices are easing the trip a little bit. Southern California prices are about $1.50 lower per gallon than a year ago, but they’re still at the second-highest level ever for this time of year, the Auto Club reported.
Stevenson Ranch resident Tabitha Phillips stopped at a local Arco station Thursday ahead of her weekend trip to Las Vegas. The fill-up, at $4.89 a gallon, wasn’t cheap, but the 34-year-old said she’s resigned to higher fuel prices.
“This is what it is,” she said. It’s “still cheaper than flying.”
Dan Hernandez, who filled up at a nearby Union 76, paid $5.08 a gallon. He and his wife and two sons were returning from a Universal Studios visit before heading back to their home in Los Robles.
“I’m old enough to remember when gas was 75 cents a gallon,” Hernandez said. “That was a little before I started driving, but back then there’d be sticker shock if it broke $1 a gallon.”
Hernandez is equally resigned to high prices at the pump.
“It’s been like this for so long … the frustrating phase is over,” he said. “No one likes these kinds of prices for gas — or for anything. But with a wife and two kids, I need to go where I have to go.”
The top five destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a recent Auto Club travel survey, are Las Vegas, San Diego, the Central Coast, Mexico and the Grand Canyon.
An influx of holiday travelers
Meanwhile, millions of people are expected to pass through LAX from June 28 to July 10.
“We expect passenger volumes to reach the highest levels we have seen so far this year with an average of 228,000 daily passengers in the days before and after the Independence Day holiday,” said Justin Erbacci, CEO for Los Angeles World Airports, which includes LAX.
Before the pandemic in 2019, the airport logged an average daily passenger count of about 241,000 people.
John Wayne Airport doesn’t like to predict July 4 holiday traffic, but airport spokeswoman AnnaSophia Servin said terminals were buzzing on Thursday.
“We anticipate higher passenger traffic throughout the weekend,” she said.
Scores of airlines have experienced delays and cancellations, with United and Southwest near the top of the list. United had 724 delays and 409 cancellations Thursday, and Southwest posted 1,038 delays and 23 canceled flights.
For Southwest travelers, the situation likely evokes memories of the airline’s meltdown last year when more than 16,700 holiday flights were canceled as the result of a faulty scheduling system and staffing issues.
The Auto Club of Southern California predicts that 517,000 Southern Californians will be driving to their destinations over the July 4 holiday weekend. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
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