March 12, 2010

Vacation travelers wait less at jetport

EDWARD D

— By . MURPHY

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Sat., Feb.14, 2009. Plenty of parking available as travel is light at the Portland Jetport today.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Karen Lane had heard the horror stories about the Portland International Jetport during February school vacation week.

Parking lots filled to overflowing, a jammed drop-off lane in front of the terminal and long lines at airline check-in counters.

Saturday presented a very different scene. Long-term lots with plenty of open spaces. Few cars, and sometimes none, dropping off passengers and luggage. And small to nonexistent lines to check those bags.

''They said parking would be full,'' said Lane, a Waterville resident on her way to Florida. ''We had plenty of parking.''

Airport officials said they expect this week will not be as busy as a typical school vacation week because the economy is causing many families to opt for cheaper, stay-at-home school breaks. The airlines told airport officials that the load factor -- the percentage of seats filled on a flight -- is shaping up to be about 80 percent from the Portland airport this week.

That's not much higher than a typical load factor at the Portland airport, which averages in the mid-70 percent range. During school vacation weeks, most flights are at least 90 percent full, while completely filled and even overbooked flights aren't uncommon.

Travel agents, too, have said that leisure travel is down this year due to mass layoffs and a sinking economy. AAA Northern New England, for instance, said last week that its travel business is down 24 percent so far this year, despite significant cost-cutting by resorts.

Walt Disney World -- the destination of scores of travelers at the airport Saturday -- has a reputation for almost never cutting its prices, but it's running a promotion giving guests three days for free if they book four at a resort hotel. The resort recently extended the promotion into the summer.

The lack of congestion Saturday made for a less hectic than normal start to the vacation for many travelers.

Kristen Taylor of Scarborough, another Florida-bound Mainer, said she was pleased to be able to easily find a place to park. Before the jetport expanded its parking garage, most long-term lots filled up early on school vacation week -- sometimes even before the week officially started, with people leaving early Friday or even Thursday to get a jump-start on a vacation and avoid the crowd-caused hassles.

The airport's surface long-term parking lot was full by mid-morning Saturday, but the garage still had spaces. The garage, however, does cost a bit more than surface parking: $12 a day compared with $10 a day.

Inside the terminal, the lack of lines and no big crowd made things easier for Taylor.

''I'm very happy because we have a child with special needs and he doesn't like to wait,'' Taylor said.

Mike Boucher of Limerick said he thought that parking might be a problem, so he had a friend drop him and his family off for their trip to Florida. It turned out to be unnecessary, although he did save a few bucks on long-term parking rates.

Surveying a relatively uncongested, fairly quiet terminal, Boucher said he was surprised.

''I thought it'd be busier,'' he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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