At Portland International Jetport on Friday, a group of eager travelers was waiting to board the first nonstop flight from Portland to Florida since all such flights were canceled in the wake of the 2008 recession.

Florida has long been Maine’s most popular flight destination, and with jetport traffic exceeding pre-recession levels for the first time this year, airlines are jumping on the opportunity to offer more flights.

The jetport averaged more than 285 passengers per day traveling to Florida last December, making it the state’s No. 1 holiday destination. That came as no surprise to travel industry professionals, who said the Sunshine State has long been the top leisure travel spot for Mainers.

In 2014, there were nearly 140,000 passenger trips from the jetport to Florida, or roughly 17 percent of the total for the year. The six most popular destinations were: Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.

Trips to Florida in 2014 far outpaced those to Maine’s No. 2 travel destination, the New York City area, where 93,294 passenger trips were taken from the jetport, followed by 88,549 trips to the Washington, D.C., area.

While jetport officials don’t track the purpose of each trip, Director Paul Bradbury said it’s likely that a much larger percentage of trips to New York and D.C. were for business, while the bulk of travel to Florida was for leisure.

John Pearsall, president of Portland-based Elite Airways, said the company began offering nonstop flights from the jetport to Orlando Melbourne International Airport on Friday in response to growing demand.

“Portland down to central Florida is a huge opportunity for us,” Pearsall said. “The Mainers love a nonstop flight – that’s the key.”

Bailey Brown was one of the roughly 40 passengers waiting Friday to board Elite’s inaugural Portland-to-Melbourne flight. The 14-year-old Rome resident was excited to talk about her plans to spend the winter in 70- to 80-degree weather.

“My grandparents live in Florida,” she said. “It’s kind of like a Christmas present.”

Waiting with Bailey was her mother, Amy Brown, who explained that her daughter attends school online and is therefore able to spend a few months away from home. Amy Brown said she would love to go, too, but would be staying in Maine to look after her other kids.

“I’m afraid the other three children at home wouldn’t have a house standing when I got back,” she joked.

Also waiting at the gate was Brenda Pulcifur, who was heading home to Mims, Florida, after spending a month with family in Maine.

“All my children are here,” she said. “I retired to Florida.”

Travel industry professionals said there are myriad reasons why Florida has been the perennial favorite for vacationers from Maine, not least of which is the fact that it’s the closest tropical place they can get to without leaving the country.

“They’re going to experience weather similar to the Caribbean, but without the hassle of having to get a passport,” said Beth Skypeck, senior travel adviser for Direct Travel in Portland, formerly known as Hurley Travel Experts.

Florida also is the point of departure for the majority of Caribbean cruises, she said, as well as a mecca for golfers and fishermen. But the biggest draws are its theme parks, which include Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando.

“Everyone from this area goes to Disney World at least once,” Skypeck said. “At least.”

A lot of Mainers have family members who retired in Florida, which is relatively cheap and easy to get to. Bailey Brown’s flight cost less than $200 and took about three hours from gate to gate.

Maine is hardly unique in terms of its Florida fixation, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s public-private tourism agency. Florida is on track to receive more than 100 million visitors from all over the world by the end of 2015, according to Visit Florida representative Claudia Claussen.

Preliminary figures for the first three quarters of 2015 show 67.4 million domestic visitors, 8.3 million overseas visitors and 3.4 million Canadians have traveled to the Sunshine State, she said.

“Florida is a top destination for several Northeastern states year-round, including New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey,” Claussen said.

The cruise industry alone accounts for a large share of Florida visits from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, said Eric Baxter, manager of travel products and services for AAA Northern New England.

Miami-based Royal Caribbean International, one of the world’s largest cruise operators, hosts about 45,000 passengers each week departing from Florida ports, Baxter said.

When you add the number of retired New Englanders in Florida and seasonal, “snowbird” residents for families to visit in the winter, it’s no surprise that the state dominates flight itineraries in Portland, Burlington and Manchester, he said.

“Florida is tremendously popular, and it has been forever,” Baxter said.