The Transportation Security Administration expects a busy week at LaGuardia...

The Transportation Security Administration expects a busy week at LaGuardia Airport through Sunday. To hedge against potential delays, it's recommended to be on the earliest flights. Credit: David Handschuh

Despite higher gas prices and inflation, over 54 million Americans are expected to travel more than 50 miles for Thanksgiving, just shy of pre-pandemic travel levels, according to a new report released by AAA.

Holiday travel from Wednesday to Sunday next week will increase 1.5% compared with 2021, according to AAA, which started compiling travel forecasts in 2001.

There were 56 million travelers in 2019, the second most since 2005, when more than 58 million people took to the roads, skies, rails and seas.

It’s good news for the still-recovering travel industry, which saw revenues plummet in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country.

And while Americans are paying $3.75 for a gallon of regular gas at the pump — roughly 10% more than a year ago — driving remains the most popular mode of transportation, with nearly 49 million people expected to get behind the wheel to get to their destination, according to the AAA.

Gas prices have eased since hitting a record peak in June, according to AAA. Long Islanders are currently shelling out $3.82 for a gallon of regular gas.

Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman for AAA Northeast, said gas generally accounts for 10% to 15% of the average travel budget but he doesn’t expect it will stop people from getting away.

“I don’t think gasoline prices are going to prove to be any kind of hurdle,” Sinclair said. "If somebody wants to take a trip, they’ll certainly be able to afford the gas to make a trip of 50 miles or more."

The dip in gas prices since June comes as consumer inflation reached 7.7% in October compared with a year earlier. The year-over-year increase, down from 8.2% in September, was the smallest rise since January.

John Rizzo, an economist and Stony Brook University professor, said he does not expect inflationary concerns will cause Long Islanders to cut back on travel plans. He also believes there is still pent up travel demand from prior pandemic restrictions.

“Thanksgiving is an important holiday, it usually doesn’t involve much long-distance travel. I think families will cut back on other things before they’ll cut back on visiting each other,” Rizzo said. “I wouldn’t expect there to be any decline or flat travel this Thanksgiving.”

The metro area will experience severe congestion the day before the holiday, according to INRIX, a Washington-based company that analyzes traffic data. The busiest road is projected to be I-278 South, the Staten Island Expressway, which is projected to have a 158% increase in traffic from Exit 13 to Exit 22 compared with typical volumes. The eastbound Long Island Expressway will see a 97% increase between Exits 13 to 32 and a 21% increase in congestion westbound from Exits 44 to 16.

For those heading to Brooklyn or across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the westbound Belt Parkway will experience a 77% increase in traffic from Exit 17 to Exit 3. INRIX also forecasts a 66% rise in traffic on the eastbound Belt Parkway from Exits 3 to 17.

To avoid traffic snarls, INRIX recommends leaving early Wednesday or before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving and steering clear of driving between 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday of that week. AAA expects to assist over 411,000 broken-down cars over the Thanksgiving holiday, 5% more than last year.

Lorraine Korth-Smith, of Malverne, said she is excited to be taking a road trip to Highland Lakes, New Jersey for a big reunion that includes her 95-year-old mother along with other relatives.

“I believe we will try to beat the traffic and go up on Tuesday,” Korth-Smith said on 7th Street in Garden City. She's buoyed after seeing more folks in Manhattan this fall. 

“I think people are grateful to be returning to a sense of normalcy and are feeling particularly happy and enthusiastic about the chance to be together again,” she said.

In addition to driving, another 4.5 million Americans will fly to their holiday destination, nearly 99% of 2019 volumes and up nearly 8% since 2021, according to the AAA. Airfares are also 22% costlier since last year, according to the AAA.

Heather Asencio, of Floral Park, will take a flight to visit her sister-in-law near St. Paul, Minn. Asencio, who is flying with her husband and their three children, said she paid a steep $800 a ticket, nearly double from prior years, she said.

“We’re just really excited, we haven’t been there for two years,” Asencio said.

Since 2021, there’s also been a 23% rise in people choosing other modes of transportation, including buses, trains, or cruise ships, according to the AAA.

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