Winter holiday travel recovered in Maine this year even with some messy winter weather and an unrelenting pandemic.

But the volume of drivers on the Maine Turnpike and passengers through the Portland International Jetport over the Christmas weekend was still far lower than in 2019.

AAA Northern New England projected more than 4.5 million people in the region would travel away from home between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.

That’s about 35 percent more than left home over the same period a year earlier. Back then, COVID-19 cases were on an upward swing in the state’s first serious wave of the virus.

At the time, no one in the state was vaccinated, and health officials warned against gathering inside for family get-togethers and holiday parties.

This year, things are different. Nearly three-quarters of the state’s population have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and the state has distributed more than 466,000 booster shots.

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That could make fully vaccinated people think it less risky to travel and visit friends and family, even as Maine records some of its highest case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England, in the organization’s holiday travel forecast. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different, and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

But news about the rapidly spreading omicron coronavirus variant, paired with messy weather last weekend, may have blunted traffic on Maine roadways.

The Maine Turnpike Authority recorded about 675,000 vehicle transactions from Dec. 23-26. Nearly 20 percent of all those vehicles came through the York toll booth, Maine’s primary out-of-state gateway. The turnpike data includes commercial and passenger traffic.

Even though there was almost 40 percent more vehicles using the turnpike than during the same period last year, it was slower than expected and far lower than in 2019, the last pre-coronavirus holiday.

Turnpike officials forecast more than 710,000 vehicles on the highway over the holiday weekend. The true amount was about 35,000 fewer.

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Travel trends were similar at the Portland jetport. The winter holidays are busier than other periods in late-autumn and early winter, but nowhere near the peaks at the airport during the summer.

About 13,800 passengers boarded a plane in Portland from Dec. 21-27, said Assistant Airport Director Zach Sundquist.

Last year, fewer than 8,500 people flew out of Portland during the same period. In 2019, passengers numbered nearly 18,650. Passenger boarding is usually about the same as people getting off a plane, so the true number of people coming through the jetport is likely double those figures.

Portland had minor flight disruptions over the holiday weekend. Five Cape Air flights were canceled on Dec. 25 because of bad weather, and a Frontier Airlines flight was canceled on Dec. 27.

Across the world, air travel has been in disarray with thousands of flights canceled, largely because of staffing shortages caused by coronavirus infection and exposure.


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