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As Holiday Travel Picks Up Again, Lawmakers Call For COVID Restrictions For Domestic Flights

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As millions fly to see loved ones for Thanksgiving, airports will likely be packed at near pre-pandemic levels this entire week - and it has already started.

CBS2's John Dias took a closer look at what's in store for some travelers.

Wednesday is expected to be one of the busiest travel days of the year, but by the looks of it, LaGuardia Airport Tuesday was giving the traditional Wednesday getaway day a run for its money.

"I thought it was going to be bad. It's gnarlier than I expected," said Gramercy Park resident Sophia Smith.

"Other years it has been long but not this long," said traveler Ridwana Zaman.


Lengthy TSA line snaked around the Queens airport for the second day in a row. Harriet Nance of Brooklyn says the best way to describe it is just one word.

"Wow," Nance said.

A self-proclaimed avid traveler, she said she'd never seen it so crowded before.

"It's heart stopping. You gotta get ready, make sure you have time," Nance said.

Some 4.2 million Americans are expected to fly for Thanksgiving - a more than 80% increase from last year - all now passing through vaccinated TSA employees after a new federal mandate went into effect Monday. Ninety-three percent of TSA employees have gotten at least one dose.

"We absolutely celebrate when it's all over, and we can kind of slow down and breathe a little," said TSA security training instructor Yanick-Nikita Lunford.

For Delta Air Lines, it's game time. At any given moment, most large airports have dozens of trucks, plus thousands of staff all coordinating in real time. It's something passengers don't see: Thousands of pieces of checked luggage, sorted and loaded on planes.

"It may look like chaos to the average person, but there's a- there is a ballet that's taking place here," said Delta Air Lines Vice President of Operations Matt Sparks.

Watch John Dias' report -- 

The travel uptick comes as several Democrats, including New York Rep. Ritchie Torres, are asking President Joe Biden to require all airline passengers to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test to board - not just on international flights.

"This is a necessary and long overdue step toward ensuring all Americans feel safe and confident while traveling and reduce the changes of yet another devastating winter surge," they wrote.

That's drawing opinions from both sides.

Nationwide, infections are up 54% in the last month.

"It's the same. We get exposed. Delta has crawled up," said Katherine Sharburgh of Rye.

"I'm vaccinated, I don't think it should be forced upon people," said traveler Becky Arnold.

"I think I would feel safer if everybody was vaccinated or at least if everybody was tested," traveler Nicole Rosenthal told CBS2.

The Rosenthal family was already in compliance with the potential requirement.

"We're both double vaccinated and boosted, and she's had two vaccines, and we're ready to go," Nicole Rosenthal said.

"I feel like as long as people are taking the proper safety precautions, it's not necessary. I mean, everyone has the right to choose," one person said.

"I feel quite safe. Everyone wears their mask on board and sanitizing stations," said Erin Coombs.

AAA says this year's forecast marks the highest single-year increase in Thanksgiving travelers since 2005. So pack not just your masks, but your patience.

Meanwhile, 90% of people traveling for the holiday are expected to drive to their destinations this year. That's a turnout that has not been seen in several years, according to experts.

As CBS2's Cory James reports, New York City traffic was bumper-to-bumper Tuesday ahead of one of the busiest travel days of the year.

"Today was a disaster," Queens resident Alberto Cretara said.

"It sucks," one driver said.

Many drivers are expecting it to get even worse.

"It makes me feel really bad," another driver said.

AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair says Wednesday will have major traffic delays.

"Without a doubt, Wednesday afternoon, the day before the holiday, 2:30 roughly to 6:30 is the absolute worst time for you to be on the road," he said.

According to AAA, the Long Island Expressway will have a 482% increase in traffic from Exit 13 to Exit 32. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway trails behind with a 479% jump for those heading south from Exit 35 to Exit 22. Westbound commuters on the Belt Parkway will see a 254% jump from Exit 17 to Exit 3.

"It's going to be hammertime on local roads," Sinclair said.

Still, drivers say it's worth it to reunite with family.

"Finally we can hug each other again, and let's do it," Cretara said.

Sinclair says to avoid those major traffic jams, go to bed early Wednesday night and wake up early Thanksgiving morning to travel to your destination.

If you're taking a train this holiday week, there are some MTA service changes. For more information, click here.

CBS2's Cory James contributed to this report.

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