Dec 15, 2023 - News

San Diego Holiday travel guide: Airport peak times, highway traffic

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Brace yourself for busy airports and highways during the Christmas and New Year's holiday stretch, according to new AAA projections, as Axios' Kelly Tyko reports.

Why it matters: The forecast rounds off a year in which both Fourth of July and Thanksgiving set holiday travel records.

Zoom in: The San Diego International Airport expects more than 700,000 travelers from Dec. 23 through New Year's Day, per spokesperson Jonathan Heller.

  • Saturday, Dec. 23 and Saturday, Dec. 30 are expected to be the busiest days, with 80,000 travelers coming through each day.
  • Ongoing construction from the Terminal 1 rebuild is expected to exacerbate delays — travelers are encouraged to arrive early.
  • From 4-6:15am, 9:30am-12:30pm and 8pm to midnight are the busiest curbside times.
  • The airport is staging live musical and circus performances in the terminals throughout the week to make things a little less miserable.

The big picture: AAA projected in its holiday forecast out Monday that 115.2 million travelers will hit the road or take flight during the 10-day travel period beginning Dec. 23.

  • That's a 2.2% increase over last year, or 2.5 million more travelers, AAA projects.
  • It's the second-highest year-end travel forecast since AAA began tracking in 2000.
  • 2019 was the busiest Christmas and New Year's period on record, with 119 million total travelers.

By the numbers: This year, 7.51 million travelers are expected to take a plane, AAA's highest projection and more than the 2019 record of 7.33 million.

  • 103.6 million are expected to drive 50 miles or more, 1.8% more than last year but down from the 2019 record of 108 million.

Meanwhile, Saturday, Dec. 23 and Thursday, Dec. 28 are the most congested days on the road, according to INRIX, a provider of transportation data, as part of AAA's forecast.

What they're saying: "More Americans are investing in travel, despite the cost, to make memories with loved ones and experience new places," said Paula Twidale, AAA Travel senior vice president, in a statement.


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