Friday marks busiest travel day before Christmas on roads; Here's what travelers should expect

ByLena Howland KGO logo
Friday, December 23, 2022
Friday marks busiest travel day before Christmas on roads, in air
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Friday marks the busiest travel day before Christmas on roads and in the air. Here's what travelers should expect.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Travelers on the West Coast are no exception to the impacts from the major winter storm sweeping the other side of the country.

It's somewhat of a "perfect storm" hitting on the busiest travel day of the week before Christmas, both in the air and on the roads.

"It's been 24 hours for us because we are two hours ahead of time," said Billie Cowley, an Iowa resident.

Cowley, her husband and their four kids, slept at SFO overnight unexpectedly, stuck in travel limbo, as a "once in a generation" storm pummels parts of the Midwest and East Coast.

"I was really cold last night. I was shivering," said Cowley's 16-year-old daughter.

MORE: Bay Area airports see cancellations, delays as powerful winter storm disrupts holiday travel

From the small town of Fayette, Iowa, they hopped on a plane in Des Moines Thursday, got delayed and booked on a different flight to Denver, where they waited and waited and finally flew standby on a flight to San Francisco -- the closest they could get to Sacramento, where they're supposed to leave for Maui on Christmas Eve.

"The first we could get to Sacramento was on Christmas day," Cowley said.

They were finally able to get a car service to bring them to family in Yuba City where they'll wait for their flight to Maui on Saturday.

"We left Iowa in a blizzard basically," she said. "We knew this was not going to be easy, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. And I look at all of these families with little, little babies that don't understand, and we've done it before. I'm just grateful that our kids are old enough. They have things to keep them occupied."

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Drivers on the roadways won't be much luckier than the Cowley family, as AAA says Friday is expected to be the most congested day on the roads before Christmas.

"Make sure you have gas in your car. Please do not leave figuring you're going to make it to a gas station and be fine," said Officer Andrew Barclay, a spokesman for CHP. "When you get stuck in that backup, and your car dies blocking a traffic lane, that traffic is now exponentially worse."

CHP is looking for aggressive and distracted drivers and are also starting their maximum DUI enforcement period on Friday night at 6 p.m. through Sunday night at midnight.

"What that means for us is just as many officers as we can get out on the roads," Barclay said. "It's so much more than just alcohol. We have cannabis, we have prescription medication, we have all sorts of other drugs that people can use that will prohibit them from safely operating a car."

MORE: Timeline: Atmospheric river heading to Bay Area next week

And whether you're flying or driving this holiday weekend, the number one thing to pack before leaving is patience.

"It's been a long journey, but again, it's all part of the journey, you start out and you've gotta roll with the punches," said Matt Cowley, an Iowa resident.

As of 11:30 a.m. on Friday, SFO had 73 cancelled flights and 153 delays so be sure to check your flight status before heading to the airport.

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