If you’re flying out of Los Angeles International Airport during the Thanksgiving holiday, prepare for big crowds, long lines and a challenge finding a parking space.
Officials at LAX — the country’s second busiest airport — are preparing for the heaviest Thanksgiving traffic since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 200,000 passengers expected daily through Friday through the following 10 days.
Passenger traffic is expected to increase on April 11. More than 215,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport on Sunday after Thanksgiving, according to a press release from Los Angeles World Airports.
Those numbers are just slightly below 2019’s record-breaking Thanksgiving travel volume and about 20,000 more passengers per day compared to 2021, airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said.
“We ask travelers to do their part to create a hassle-free experience by planning their parking spot, arriving extra early, and taking time to relax at the gate instead of spinning around in traffic,” said Justin Erbacci, Chief Executive of Los Angeles World Airports. “Our car parks will be full and traffic will be heavy, so we’re giving travelers the tools to plan ahead for the best experience.”
Travelers are urged to pre-book parking online as spaces in the economy car parks and central terminal garages are “likely to sell out”. Passengers flying on United and Southwest can also take advantage of the LAX Fast Lane program, which allows travelers on those airlines in Terminals 1, 7, and 8 to reserve a 15-minute window, free of charge, to clear security at a faster time , dedicated lane to pass .
LAX officials said they expect the airport to be busiest between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. each day.
On Friday afternoon, traffic remained slightly congested for people coming to and from the terminals and parking lots filled up, but travelers in the check-in and security lines appeared to be moving.
“I always have a feeling it’s going to be a nightmare, but it wasn’t at all,” said Julie Hollmer, who flew in from Wisconsin to spend the week of vacation with her daughter. “But I came earlier because of the holidays.”
Other travelers at LAX on Friday said they hadn’t noticed any crowding issues, although Tony Fields said he made sure to arrive early enough for his flight home to Denver.
“Hopefully it won’t be that bad,” Fields said, though he noted he was concerned about how snow in his hometown might affect his flight. He said he made sure he would not be traveling this weekend until Wednesday when he thought travel was going to be at its busiest.
“I try to avoid that,” said Fields, 56.
While Los Angeles County officials this week advised residents to return to wearing masks in indoor public spaces — as transmission of COVID-19 began to rise — many travelers and LAX employees were not wearing masks on Friday.
Jinsei Goto, 23, flew back from Japan on Friday and although 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 recording a ride at LAX was waiting.
“I started noticing that people started taking it off because the staff wasn’t wearing it [back in L.A.]’ Goto said. “People were more relaxed there.”
Road trips are also expected to continue over the holiday weekend with American Automobile Assn. As of November, 54.6 million people are expected to travel across the country. 23-27, with the vast majority driving to their destinations. It would be the third busiest Thanksgiving travel weekend since 2000, behind only 2019 and 2005, according to the AAA.
Los Angeles’ freeways will likely be among the busiest in the country, AAA forecasts, and drivers should expect more than double normal delays depending on travel times.
Retail stores and malls are also expected to be crowded. The National Retail Federation is forecasting a record-breaking number of shoppers, both in physical stores and online, from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. Black Friday remains the most popular day for shopping, but the association estimates 166.3 million people will shop over the five days, almost 8 million more people than the previous year and the highest day since the organization began making those estimates in 2017 .