Hundreds of thousands of Southland residents are setting off today on Memorial Day weekend trips, the vast majority of them traveling by road.
About 2.6 million Southland residents are expected to take overnight getaways of at least 50 miles away from home -- 1.6 percent more than last year's 2.56 million but about the same as the 2.61 million who traveled in 2010, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The top Memorial Day destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a survey of AAA Travel agents, are, in the following order, San Diego, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, San Francisco, and the Central Coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey.
The vast majority of local travelers -- 2.19 million -- will go by car, an increase of 1.7 percent from 2011, while the number of air travelers from the Southland is expected to decline by 5.1 percent, from 260,000 in 2011 to 247,000, the AAA reported in a projection consistent with those of officials at Los Angeles International Airport.
LAX officials said more than 760,000 travelers are expected to pass through the airport over the Memorial Day weekend, a 7.4 percent drop from the four-day holiday period last year. They said the drop can be attributed to higher air fares being driven by elevated fuel prices.
But in the long run, airport officials said they anticipate more than 19.9 million people passing through LAX during the summer travel season, a 4 percent increase over last year's 19.1 million travelers. They said some improvements in the economy and the addition of summer air service to various overseas destinations will drive the increase.
Airport officials said that today, the unofficial start of summer, and Monday are expected to be the Memorial Day weekend's busiest travel days. Passengers traveling during the peak times of 6 to 9 a.m., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m. were being advised to arrive two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
"With airfares moving much higher in recent months, we had fewer air travel advance bookings for the summer, and instead travelers were looking for a better value for their money with options such as drive vacations, domestic tours and cruises," said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club's vice president for travel products and services.
"Even with gas prices above $4 a gallon, it's less expensive to drive than to fly for most Memorial Day getaways."
The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County fell today for the ninth consecutive day, dropping 1.1 cents to $4.321. The average price has dropped 8.6 cents over the past nine days and is 7.4 cents less than one week ago but 12.3 cents more than one month ago and 21.4 cents higher than one year ago.
Travel patterns around the state and throughout the nation this weekend were expected to mirror the Southland's slight increase in the number of Memorial Day weekend travelers.
The Auto Club said 4.18 million Californians are expected to take trips this weekend compared to 4.12 million last year. Eighty-five percent of them -- 3.52 million -- are expected to drive, a 1.7 percent increase over last year's 3.47 million car travelers, while 397,000 are projected to fly, a 5.1 percent drop from last year's 419,000 air travelers.
Nationwide, total holiday travel is expected to increase by 1.2 percent to 34.76 million, with 30.67 million driving, a 1.2 percent increase, and 2.5 million flying, a 5.5 percent decrease, according to the AAA.