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Holiday travelers take to the road and sky

  • Traffic on 101 Hwy. at dusk near Rohnert Park Expressway. Robert Grant

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
December 22, 2017

Many travelers will hit the skies and the road to go over the river and through the woods to get to grandma’s house this year or any other holiday destination, as according to AAA’s annual holiday travel forecast, 107 million Americans will travel to celebrate the season away from home. While heavier holiday traffic may be expected at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, those traveling by car can let out a slight sigh of relief as local gas prices have dropped due to a statewide 12 cent decrease.
In a statement for the AAA holiday travel report, Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of AAA said of the high volume of travelers, “Across the board this year, travel has increased year-over-year for every major holiday weekend — Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving — and we project the same for the year-end holiday period. We’ve seen the strong economy and growing consumer confidence fuel holiday travel.”
According to the travel report this holiday season from Dec. 23 through New Years will be the “highest year-end travel volume on record,” and is a 3.1 percent traveler increase from last year’s numbers. However the largest growth in holiday festivity travel will be by air. According to statistics from the report there is a 4.1 percent increase in air travel from last year — around 6.4 million are expected to make their way to their holiday destination via airplane.
Jon Stout, media spokesperson for the Charles M. Schulz airport said they expect to see an increase of five flights for the smaller commuter airline service airport. “That is on top seven by Alaska and it is busier this year because we added American Airlines in February and they are doing two flights a day to Phoenix and we added United Airlines with three flights a day to San Francisco,” Stout said.
Currently the airport can have 11 different departures and eight arrivals scheduled for a day from Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland, Santa Ana and San Diego. In terms of actual foot traffic throughout the airport, Stout said it’s hard to tell how many people come through its doors each day, but the airlines are saying they are having their seats fill up quickly.
“What I’ve been hearing from the airlines is that it appears that from about the 20th through the 29th all flights are pretty well booked close to full and that whole week (will be the busiest time for airplane travel from STS),” Stout said. “And that’s typical, business picks up then it stays strong until about New Years and once we hit New Years it tapers off quickly.”
So if you are traveling from the local Sonoma County airport should you expect to see longer lines and a more crowded terminal? Stout said they expect the airport to be not quite as busy as it usually is during their summer months, but travelers should allow a bit more time for parking as well as travel time to the airport.
“There are a few things going on where we would request passengers get their early. We are doing some extra construction around the airport and so there are some caution flags and no roads are closed, but there is construction activity right around the front of the terminal. We are also expecting our parking lots to fill up, it may take a little bit longer to find a space. We have streets around the airport that we cover up with ‘no-parking’ signs overnight so people are able to park on Skyline Boulevard,” Stout explained. “The other one is that TSA has recommended enhanced screening methods and what that means for passengers is that they will have to take out any electronics larger than a cell phone out of your bag, so that is going to take a little more time at the checkpoint. So with all of that we are encouraging people to allow at least an hour this holiday.”
Judy Mefferd, a Rohnert Park resident who had her son traveling home for the holidays from college in Erie, said it was quite an event in getting him home for the season after flights were delayed due to power outages in the East Coast and plane problems and while they know holiday travel can be tuff, it took him almost three days to get home.
“We had to get him home, he lives on campus and they close down campus so we don’t have a choice of where he could stay, he had to get home. His flight out of Erie was the last flight and coincidently so was the one out of Detroit to SFO and they (the small Erie airport) had mechanical issues on Friday, which got kicked out and that compounded the normal travel. So he ended up going back to his dorm room and they didn’t have any flights Saturday… but it was after two hours on the phone with the airline that we got him home Sunday, ” Mefferd said.
Mefferd also mentioned that when she went to pick up her son Gunner at SFO at 11 p.m. on a Sunday that the airport did seem quite busy for a weekend travel day late at night.
“At 11 p.m. at night we were at baggage waiting for him and all the baggage carousels were busy and there were a lot of people and for 11 at night it was busy,” Mefferd said of noticing an increase in travelers.
As far as traveling by automobile, AAA estimates that 97.4 million will get around this season via automobile, a slight 3 percent increase from last year. And while facing traffic gridlock on the 101 may be an unpleasant thought (The worst travel time for the Bay Area will be Dec. 20 from 3-5:30 p.m.), drivers can get some relief at the gas pump, where gas prices have decreased about 12 cents according to Kron 4 News. While gas prices remain high in other parts of the country, the gas price decrease in our home state has gone down due to the use of a cheaper, less refined type of fuel, as well as decrease in travel demand. The average price for the state is at $3.12 and the lowest price is at $2.64.

According to gasbuddy the lowest price in Rohnert Park is at a mere $2.87 at Costco and the highest is only 3:09 at Kacee’s Gas and Car Wash. For Cotati, the cheapest place to fill up is at the Mobile station on Old Redwood Highway with a price of only $2.99. Penngrove residents can fill up at Rohnert Park Valero, the closet and cheapest place at $3.00 for regular.
Trains, buses and light rail use will increase this year by about 2.2 percent to see about 3.6 million travelers. Despite the busier time of year, Brian Albee of Sonoma County Transit said they will be running their regular Sunday schedule on Christmas Eve and noted that on Christmas Day there will be no service.
“The schedule will be the same next week for New Year’s Eve,” Albee said. When asked if the transit system sees an increase in riders, Albee said.