Passengers prepare for a flight outside the main terminal at...

Passengers prepare for a flight outside the main terminal at Long Island MacArthur Airport in March. Airline traffic is expected to be heavy this Fourth of July weekend. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Long Islanders looking to head out of town for the Fourth of July weekend should plan on hitting the roads early as overall travel is expected to return to near pre-pandemic levels, according to AAA Northeast.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that families with unvaccinated children delay vacation plans, for those itching to get out, a short car trip with household members is safer than taking an extended road trip or hopping on a connecting flight, per CDC guidelines.

"It was shown by health officials during the pandemic that private motor vehicles were the safest form of travel, and I think people are keeping that in mind," AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said.

And for 43.6 million U.S. travelers, driving will be the preferred mode of transportation, surpassing 2019 record volumes by 5%, according to AAA.

"When you drive, you get maximum flexibility and you come back whenever you desire. It’s also not that expensive in the grand scheme of things," Sinclair said.

"But the freedom of driving will only last as long as the next traffic jam," Sinclair added, noting that the top travel destinations for Long Islanders will be Cape Cod in Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; and the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes areas in upstate New York.

To beat traffic, Sinclair recommends Long Islanders head out at the crack of dawn, or suffer through congestion that is projected to be two to three times worse than normal with the major thoroughfares expected to be packed.

For those wanting to avoid driving and flying altogether, the Long Island Rail Road is offering some perks. On Saturdays — starting this Saturday and through Aug. 28 — all monthly LIRR ticket holders will be able to travel anywhere on the Island with up to four additional guests for only $1 each.

To prepare for a new crush of passengers on Friday, the LIRR also is adding six eastbound trains.

Trains will run on a Saturday schedule on Sunday and on a holiday schedule on Monday. Passengers heading west Monday morning will find two extra trains at the Babylon and Ronkonkoma stations. Folks doing the reverse commute and departing Penn Station that afternoon also can snatch seats on four additional eastbound trains.

Meanwhile, to meet the projected increase in vehicle traffic, the Port Authority has halted nonemergency work at the agency’s crossings from 5 a.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Tuesday. More than 3 million cars are anticipated to cross the Port Authority’s four bridges and two tunnels, according to a Port Authority news release.

Road and bridge construction on all state highways also will be suspended during the weekend. State officials urged drivers to remain alert and sober, and to move over for emergency vehicles.

The airports, including Long Island MacArthur, will be the busiest they’ve been since the coronavirus hit in March 2020, but travelers will not be met with the same pre-pandemic crowds. While the number of passengers being screened at airports has increased to between 1.8 million and 2.1 million daily, it still falls below the nearly 2.5 million screened in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

At Kennedy Airport, 57,000 people have been passing through security daily, down from a daily high of 100,000 before the COVID-19 crisis, the TSA said in a news release. Currently, 26,000 passengers are walking through the gates at LaGuardia Airport compared to 50,000 during the summer of 2019.

Passengers are still required to wear masks at airports and on flights. Airline customers also will be allowed to tote one 12-ounce hand sanitizer bottle in their carry-on bag.

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