After flying from Texas, Circe Torosian rolled her suitcase through the Portland International Jetport on Sunday as she talked and laughed with her aunt. Both women wore face masks.

“I haven’t seen her in two years,” Barbara Senko of Westbrook said of her niece. “I’m very excited.”

Like many, Torosian and Senko stayed away from loved ones during the 2020 holiday season when COVID-19 vaccines weren’t available. Now Torosian is happy to be reunited with aunts, uncles, grandmothers and cousins.

“This is the first trip I’m making to see family in a year and a half to two years,” Torosian said. “I missed them.”

She is taking precautions against COVID-19. “I got all my shots, my booster. All my family members are protected.”

Travel experts say all types of Thanksgiving travel are projected to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels.

Travelers move to board the Downeaster Sunday at the Portland Transportation Center. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“The roads and skies are going to be busy,” said Dan Goodman, spokesman for AAA Northern New England. “Thanksgiving will look different this year than last. Travel is high on the list for folks to reunite with family and friends.”

With more people getting vaccinated and updated health and safety guidelines, “that’s helping to build consumer confidence putting more people at ease,” Goodman said. “People have been waiting 18 months for this. They’re excited to spend a holiday with family and friends.”

AAA projects that 2.4 million New Englanders will travel for Thanksgiving, up 15 percent from 2020. Nationally, 53.4 million travelers are expected, which would be just 5 percent shy of 2019’s pre-pandemic total.

Many airports will be jammed, Goodman said. “We’re predicting an 80 percent increase in air travel this year.”

Trains and cruise ships that were practically empty last year will see passenger business jump 250 percent, Goodman said.

If you’re flying, get to the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international, Goodman recommends. With recent flight cancellations and delays due to poor weather and a lack of airline staffing, AAA recommends passengers buy travel insurance.

The majority of Thanksgiving travelers will be in motor vehicles. AAA predicts that 2 million New Englanders will be on the roads, the second highest number since it has kept records.

With so much vehicle traffic, “pack your patience,” Goodman said.

Unless the weather turns stormy, the Maine Turnpike will reach record levels, said MTA Executive Director Peter Mills.

“We’re back,” Mills said, adding that 2019 was a record year, slightly above 2018. “We’re back at 2019 levels. We have been all year.”

Much of the turnpike traffic is from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, some visiting, some returning to their second home in Maine.

Out-of-staters “want to get out of those cities” to where there’s less density, Mills said. “My anticipation is we’ll see as much as we’ve ever seen.”

Jetport director Paul Bradbury said Thanksgiving last year saw 27,399 people boarding planes. This year he expects the number of passengers flying out of Portland will be double that.

Still, the Thanksgiving 2021 volume is expected to be down 15 percent from 2019, Bradbury said in an email.

With more people flying, “passengers should expect full flights and congestion at connecting hubs,” Bradbury said. Passengers should be at the jetport at least 90 minutes before their flight and remember that face masks must be worn – covering the nose and mouth – in all airports nationwide.

Waiting for a bag at the airport Sunday, Heather Rainey of Dallas said she’s one of 12 family members getting together for Thanksgiving in Maine. “We’re visiting my niece. She lives here with her new husband.”

Members of the Kohut family of Brunswick wait Sunday to board a bus to Boston’s Logan Airport at the Portland Transportation Center. They were en route to Portland, Ore., for the Thanksgiving holiday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Last year they took a Thanksgiving trip to Colorado but drove instead of flying.

At the Concord Bus Station, Mike and Lauren Kohut of Brunswick waited with their son, Darwin, for a bus to Logan Airport in Boston. Their final destination was Oregon, to spend Thanksgiving with family they haven’t seen in two years.

“We’re going to see my family, my parents, my brother and his family,” Lauren Kohut said. Last Thanksgiving it was just the three of them at home. “We cooked a couple of duck breasts for fun. I’m looking forward to being able to have more of a regular gathering.”

Usually, Mike Kohut said, their family takes turns visiting Lauren’s side of the family in Oregon one year and his family in Missouri the next. “COVID has messed everything up,” he said.


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