The Presque Isle airport saw a significant increase in air travelers in September. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Business is resembling and even rivaling what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic ground life to a halt at one of Aroostook County’s airports.

Thanks to an increase in passengers and upcoming changes with their aircraft, Presque Isle International Airport is seeing numbers of flights rival 2019. The positive flight trends come just as the airport gets ready to add a new CRJ-550 jet to its fleet, marking the first time since 1978 it has offered first-class seating to passengers.

In September 2021, the airport boarded 1,198 passengers and saw 1,141 return to Presque Isle from Newark Liberty International Airport or Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. Those numbers exceed that of September 2020 — 404 boardings and 391 arrivals — as well as that of September 2019 — 1,188 boardings and 994 arrivals.

“I think we’re headed in a pretty good direction,” airport director Scott Wardwell said. “We’re seeing our numbers go back to what they were pre-COVID.”

Unlike the current ERJ-145 jet operated by CommutAir, the new 50-seat CRJ-550 jet will offer first-class seating, with the remaining 40 seats divided between economy plus and economy. The additional plane is the result of United Airlines’ new partnership with GoJet Airlines, a regional airline operator based in Missouri.

In addition, the new jet will have WiFi capabilities, larger storage space for luggage and a bigger engine that is built to handle heavy winter weather.

“It’s a big deal to have first-class seating. We think it will make more folks want to fly out of Presque Isle,” Wardwell said.

The airport will change its flight schedule as part of United Airlines’ plans to expand its service market starting on Oct. 31. Monday through Friday will feature departures from Presque Isle at 6 a.m. and 6:40 p.m. and arrivals back to Presque Isle at 5:52 and 11 p.m. Weekends will offer a 6 a.m. departure time, and an 8:30 p.m. arrival to Presque Isle.

The new schedule maintains the current schedule of 12 flights per week and aims to offer more convenient flight times for travelers, Wardwell said.

“Every day will have an option to arrive early for people who prefer not to arrive late in the evening,” Wardwell said.