The rise in air travel seen at Maine airports over the summer has continued into the fall, despite dropping temperatures and increases in coronavirus cases fueled by the delta variant, according to airport officials and passenger data.
Tens of thousands of people have continued to travel through Maine’s airports in recent months at rates that are close to or surpass those seen before the pandemic in 2019, continuing a trend that began around when the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available in the spring.
In fact, Maine’s air travel numbers this year look rosier than the nation’s as a whole.
Bangor International Airport, Maine’s second largest airport, surpassed its August 2019 passenger numbers by 9 percent this year, with passenger numbers continuing to stay strong in September and October, airport spokesperson Aimee Thibodeau said Monday.
Airlines added several new Bangor flights in time for the summer months, including new direct routes to and from Miami and Dallas-Fort Worth. The seasonal flights that were added have not yet ended for the year, Thibodeau said.
“We are continuing to trend in the right direction,” Thibodeau said.
Portland International Jetport has also seen a return to form, though traffic has not equaled 2019 numbers. Some 202,714 passengers left from the airport or landed there in September, nearly three times the number in September 2020, but an 8 percent decrease from September 2019.
The fall success comes after Bangor International had a record-breaking summer. More than 240,000 passengers went through the airport in June, July and August. It was the most seen at the airport in each of those months in the last five years.
Many of the passengers going through the airport were leisure travelers, including out-of-staters coming to Maine for vacation or Mainers traveling elsewhere.
There were also indications that business travel, which has seen steep declines amid the widespread use of remote communication during the pandemic, may be gradually returning to Bangor International as well, Thibodeau said. That return would be in line with industry-wide predictions, she said.
Nationwide, air travel so far this month has been about 79 percent of what it was in 2019, according to Transportation Security Administration data. That number was 76 percent in September and 77 percent in August.
The rise of the delta variant over the summer and fall does not appear to have put much of a dent in the return to air travel in Maine. While Maine has seen its share of cases, it has been spared the worst of the new variant seen in states including Alabama and Florida.
Maine’s smaller airports are also seeing their traffic increase.
Presque Isle International Airport saw 2,339 passengers in September, surpassing the 2019 figure by 150 passengers. Flights at the airport go to and from Newark International and Washington Dulles.
“I think we’re headed in a pretty good direction,” Airport Director Scott Wardwell told the BDN earlier this month. “We’re seeing our numbers go back to what they were pre-COVID.”
At Augusta State Airport, where flights go to and from Boston three times a day, numbers are way above 2020’s. Passenger traffic in the airport has been looking like it did in 2019 since the start of the summer months, said Manager John Guimond, though he had not yet received the final airline numbers for the past few months.
“I haven’t had enough data to compare it to ’19, but it looked like business as usual,” Guimond said.
Leisure and business passengers are about 50-50, said Guimond, who attributed some of the success seen in air travel to efforts by airlines to make it safer to fly during the pandemic.