By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The Memorial Day travel crunch officially began Friday, with crowds flocking to Los Angeles International Airport and motorists hitting the roadways for holiday getaways — many of which have been long-delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These holiday getaway numbers are very encouraging, and we expect travel to continue to strengthen once cruising and other options reopen,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel. “Because COVID-19 restrictions can vary widely from place to place and can change quickly, the Auto Club strongly recommends getting travel insurance and working with a AAA travel adviser.”

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According to the Auto Club, the top destinations for Southern California travelers are expected to be Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon National Park, San Diego and Yosemite National Park.

“We’re trying to travel early so we don’t catch the craziness later on,” said Api Lealofi, a driver.

LAX officials urged airline travelers to arrive early, noting that parking garages are likely to fill beginning early Friday. They also offered a reminder that face masks are required at all times at the airport, even for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Face masks can be removed while eating and drinking.

LAX officials warned that terminals will be busy.

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“We are seeing passenger numbers rise quickly as the demand for air travel surges across the U.S., so we want to make sure our guests know they will be returning to an airport that is bustling with travelers and at times experiencing heavy traffic,” Justin Erbacci, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that oversees LAX, said earlier this week. “LAX is ready and excited to welcome back our guests to an airport that is safe and clean with new technology and amenities that offer a more touchless passenger experience.”

According to airport officials, May has been the busiest month at LAX since early 2020 before the onset of the pandemic, with an average of 61,400 passengers passing through security checkpoints each day. That is only about half of the passenger volume from the same period in 2019, but airport officials said it is still significantly higher than it has been during the pandemic.

On Sunday, 74,881 passengers moved through security checkpoints, a record for this year, according to the airport.

LAX officials did not release any passenger projections for the Memorial Day weekend. But the Automobile Club of Southern California this month predicted that more than 2.8 million Southern California residents will be traveling over the holiday weekend, up 64% from last year. Nearly 90% of all travelers are expected to drive to their destinations, but about 9% — roughly 269,000 people — will fly.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)