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Crowded roads and airplanes expected during holiday travel period

December 23, 2009 |  2:23 pm

The number of Southern Californians traveling by car and air this holiday season is expected to be greater than last year, but the figure will still be less than before the recession struck, the Automobile Club of Southern California said today.

About 6.16 million residents will drive to their destinations, and nearly 400,000 will travel by air, said officials with the Auto Club. Statewide, about 11.3 million people will take trips during this holiday period, an 11% increase over last year. Of those, about 10 million are expected to drive and 640,000 to fly.

“This is the healthiest holiday travel increase we’ve seen in recent memory, but it’s important to keep in mind that it follows a 36% decline in the number of Christmas-New Year’s holiday travelers after the recession officially began in 2007,” said Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Auto Club.

At least 2.4 million travelers are expected to fly out of LAX from Dec. 19 to Jan. 2, said airport spokeswoman Katherine Alvarado. That should exceed last year's figure by 1.9%, she said. The number of travelers is expected to be higher because airlines shifted their schedules, resulting in more flights to and from LAX, she said.

At the Cruise America rental center in Carson, which serves travelers from LAX, employees for the last three days have booked about 20 reservations for recreational vehicles.

“Reservations are still growing,” Manager Oscar Mora said. “We’re making about two to three bookings a day.”

Many of the motor homes are being rented by local families for their relatives visiting from out of state, he said.

“It’s cheaper for them than to rent a car and book a hotel,” Mora said. “They can just get [a motor home] for $69 a day. It’s a house on wheels.”

Smaller RVs, Moran said, are being rented for the upcoming Rose Parade and to travel to San Diego.

About 30% of local travelers said they would drive instead of fly to save money, according to the Auto Club. Among the top destinations are Las Vegas, Arizona/Grand Canyon, San Diego, San Francisco and  Disneyland, Auto Club officials said.

As more drivers hit the road, the California Highway Patrol is gearing up for maximum enforcement of safe-driving laws. During the holiday period last year, the CHP recorded 4,000 collisions statewide. At least 37 people were killed, 23 of those alcohol-related, said CHP Officer Tony Garrett.

“Obey the speed limit and give yourself plenty of time,” Garrett said. “We want everyone to make it to their destination safely.”

-- Ruben Vives

Photos: Making their getaway