In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, passengers are dropped off outside of Bangor International Airport. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Traffic at Bangor International Airport has returned to 2019 levels this summer, as the airport has debuted a handful of new destinations and tourists return to traveling with the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Passenger numbers at the airport have been similar to levels in June and July 2019, when the airport saw 61,560 and 74,310 passengers respectively, said airport spokesperson Aimee Thibodeau. The airport has not yet released precise numbers for 2021.

It’s another sign that summer travel has returned in full force to Maine this summer, with some destinations bracing for records or already seeing them.

The Bangor airport saw a steep decline in 2020 as Mainers canceled vacations and business trips during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s June and July passenger numbers were 73 percent below 2019 levels.

Most of the new travel is for leisure as out-of-staters travel to Maine for vacations and Mainers travel around the country. Business travel, which many have predicted will not rebound as quickly due to the rise of videoconferencing, has not returned to 2019 levels, Thibodeau said.

The increase is a pleasant surprise for the airport, which expected a years-long recovery from the pandemic nadir. The summer months may mark the airport’s peak for passengers, with customers expected to slow down around fall foliage season, Thibodeau said.

Similar spikes in tourist traffic have been seen across Maine, including at the Portland International Jetport, which is seeing a record summer. Nationally, June and July passenger rates are down 24 percent from 2019, according to Transportation Security Agency data. Still, that is up nearly 250 percent since last year.

“People have been cooped up,” Thibodeau said. “They are vaccinated, and they’re feeling like it’s safer for them to travel now.”

Bangor International Airport added several new flights for the summer, including to Boston, Detroit, Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth. Thibodeau said these new flights had done well and contributed to the passenger increase.

The spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus has not affected the airport, Thibodeau said, as a federal mandate requires masks inside the airport and on planes. It is unclear if that mandate will be renewed before it expires on Sept. 13, Thibodeau said.

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