Masked people cross the street to go into Bangor International Airport on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor International Airport saw 332,000 fewer passengers in the first eight full months of the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019 as fewer Mainers flew for work and leisure during the COVID-19 pandemic. That worked out to a 71 percent decrease in travelers at the airport from April through November.

The decline was similar to that seen at Maine’s largest airport, Portland International Jetport, which saw a 67 percent drop in passengers during those eight months, or 1.2 million fewer passengers.

The drop in traffic at Maine’s two largest airports was slightly greater than the drop in air traffic nationally: The Transportation Security Administration screened 62 percent fewer people, a drop of 443 million, from April through November 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Declines in air travel became less drastic as the pandemic progressed and COVID-19 restrictions eased. The Bangor and Portland airports saw just 8,000 passengers total in April 2020, down from 203,000 in April 2019. But that 90-plus percent decline didn’t last. In October 2020, Bangor International Airport saw 58 percent fewer passengers than a year ago while the Portland airport saw a 64 percent decline that month.

Bangor International Airport, along with most airports, has experienced a drop in travel due to COVID-19. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Passengers numbers include people arriving and departing from each airport, meaning the same passengers could be counted multiple times.

Neither airport has released December passenger numbers yet, so it’s too early to judge how many fewer people traveled for the holiday season.

Bangor International Airport Director Tony Caruso said the airport had lost many of its leisure travelers but had continued to see many traveling for work, especially in the health care and construction industries. The airport has also remained open for military and cargo operations, which have included planes carrying personal protective equipment.

Several others are traveling for “family reasons,” Caruso said, which could include a medical crisis, the sudden death of a loved one or another event that requires quick travel to a far-away location.

Flights are currently available from Bangor to Orlando Sanford and Tampa international airports in Florida, Philadelphia International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Seasonal flights also go to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

Allegiant Air, American Airlines and United Airlines all currently fly out of the airport.

From left: Passengers outside Bangor International Airport. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

Delta Airlines — which had flown to Detroit, New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Reagan National — suspended flights out of Bangor over the summer due to declining numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caruso described the suspension as temporary.

“We are confident they will be returning to the market in the near future,” he said.

In addition to Portland and Bangor, Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head and Presque Isle International Airport are Maine’s two other primary hubs, as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration. Those smaller airports also saw significant declines in traffic in 2020, though Knox County’s 55 percent decline from April to December 2020 was less pronounced than the drop in Bangor and Portland.

Knox County Regional Airport Manager Jeremy Shaw said he believes his airport will see a full recovery from 2020’s losses if confidence builds in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

“I don’t think COVID will have a lasting effect on air travel in general,” Shaw said. “Just a temporary adjustment.”

Some in the airline industry, however, fear that business travel will never bounce back to pre-pandemic levels as videoconferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Meet have taken hold during the pandemic.

“We remain hopeful, but realize that COVID likely has changed what we view as normal far beyond air travel,” said Caruso, the Bangor airport director. “People will still want and need to travel but are going to be ready to do so on their own time, and we’ll be here whenever that is.”

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