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Thanksgiving travel to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, AAA says

Commuters take to the roads during the 2019

Commuters take to the roads during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Credit: Johnny Milano

Long Islanders heading out of town Thanksgiving week should expect busier roadways and airports as holiday travel is expected to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, according to the AAA.

Over 53 million Americans are predicted to travel for Thanksgiving, 13% more than for the holiday last year. Air travel is expected to be 80% higher than last Thanksgiving, and with the federal government lifting travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors, the number of air travelers is expected to continue to increase, according to the AAA.

As in prior years, driving remains the preferred mode of transportation for the upcoming holiday. More than 48 million Americans will get behind the wheel to get to their destination, the AAA said.

"I think what we’re seeing is pent-up desire for people who want to go out and reconnect with families and friends," said Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman for the AAA Northeast.

Motorists should expect all major thoroughfares to be congested the day before Thanksgiving.

The Long Island Expressway will be particularly gnarly for westbound drivers from Exit 44 in Nassau County to Exit 16 in Queens, with traffic expected to increase 106% on the afternoon of Nov. 24, according to information provided by INRIX, a Washington-based transportation analytics firm.

Eastbound drivers on the Long Island Expressway also won’t be spared that afternoon, with a 482% spike in traffic predicted from Borden Avenue to Little Neck Parkway, which spans most of Queens, between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., according to INRIX.

Bottlenecking along the same stretch of the eastbound Long Island Expressway in Queens also is expected Thanksgiving afternoon, though not as severe.

Higher gas prices, which are averaging $3.56 per gallon in the state, up about $1.34 since last year, isn't deterring drivers, according to the AAA.

"They’re saying, ‘The heck with the prices, I haven’t seen my aunt, my uncle, my mother and father in a year and a half, I am going to bite the bullet and take this trip,’ " Sinclair said.

Airports will also see a jump in passengers, with 4.2 million travelers hitting the skies.

The Transportation Security Administration is equipped to handle the increased passenger volume, said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. TSA officers are currently screening between 1.9 million and 2.2 million people daily, Farbstein said.

The holiday also means more passengers will be toting food through airport security checkpoints, Farbstein said. She clarified that frozen or cooked meats and turkey, plus casseroles and stuffing, are allowed through checkpoints. Gravy and canned fruits and vegetables must be packed into a checked bag.

Ridership on the Long Island Rail Road also is expected to be higher than last Thanksgiving. To accommodate the increase in customers during the holidays, the LIRR will provide additional train service.

On Thanksgiving Eve, there will be 10 extra eastbound trains for people leaving the city on the Babylon, Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma, Port Washington, Far Rockaway and Montauk branches. In anticipation of riders heading into Manhattan to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, there will be six extra westbound trains on Thanksgiving morning and 11 early afternoon eastbound trains.

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