Nicole Kamarainen sat outside the arrival gate at Missoula International Airport on Thursday, watching the flight tracker over the door.
Minute by minute, the red icon representing United Airlines Flight 3614 inched closer to the dot reading Missoula. The digital airplane also represented her husband’s imminent homecoming.
“He’s a Marine and he’s been out on training, but he gets to come home for Christmas,” said Kamarainen. “I haven’t seen him in a couple of months, and he’s been gone a lot in the last couple years.”
Kamarainen’s husband, Sgt. Devin Kamarainen, is partaking in what AAA projects will be a record-breaking holiday travel season. The organization anticipates more than 100 million Americans will travel 50 or more miles from home – the most on record.
Flights to and from Missoula ran on schedule Thursday, though delays were reported in Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia. Additional delays are possible in the days ahead as snow moves across the upper Midwest and flooding is possible from rain in the South.
“My husband left out of (Washington) D.C. last night, where his plane was delayed for three hours,” said Kamarainen, who lives in Polson. “It was pretty late when he got in to his connection last night.”
Sgt. Kamarainen made three transfers to reach Missoula, where he arrived shortly after 10 a.m. Anticipation and a nod of anxiety quickly subsided when the Marine emerged through the revolving doors.
Kamarainen, dressed in attire suited for such a reunion, was ready with a long kiss and a prolonged hug. Months of separation were erased in minutes.
“It’s been a few months since I’ve seen Nicky,” Sgt. Kamarainen confessed. “It’s always a little bit nerve-wracking to come home.”
Such homecomings were easy to find Thursday, the eve before Christmas. Kaydn and Camron Easter ran across the terminal to embrace their grandfather, Ham Lokey, who referred to the children as “The Princess” and the “Pencil-Neck Terrorist.”
Other reunions would unfold in distant cities – Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, where Rick and Sheryl O’Brien were heading for the holidays.
“So far, our travel has been pretty good, but that’s subject to change,” said Rick, who left Hamilton with his wife to make an 11:23 a.m. departure. “Car rentals were really interesting in LAX. They’re randomly available at this point in time. It took a lot of searching to find one.”
The uptick in Americans traveling this holiday season represents an increase of 1.4 percent over last year, according to AAA. It also marks the seventh consecutive season with year-end growth in holiday travel.
Despite the awaiting crowds in distant hubs, leaving Missoula on Christmas Eve proved to be a snap.
“We were afraid it was going to be madness, so we showed up two hours early, and it’s been pretty good,” Pedro Marques said before departing to Denver with his wife, Janaina and daughter Clarice. “It’s been a piece of cake. We had time for a nice long breakfast this morning.”