Some airports are just better than others. In our completely unbiased opinion, the Portland International Airport – PDX – is one of the best in the world. Here’s why:
Getting there is actually fun
Portland is a famously bicycle-loving city, so it’s probably no surprise you can ride your bicycle to and from the airport. The city has a network of multi-use paved trails, and these will connect you to the bike path alongside Marine Drive, which leads to the airport. Grab a map online or at the airport info desk. If you’re traveling with a bicycle and need to reassemble it on arrival, PDX has you covered there, too: there’s a bicycle work station with tools attached, on the airport’s lower level. There’s a bicycle rack adjacent to the work station and another at the opposite end of the airport near baggage claim. And a little-known fact for the other kind of cyclist: you can park a motorcycle free at Portland Airport, in a covered, secure, well-monitored lot just outside baggage claim. Further incentive to pack light!
The famous PDX carpet
Even people who’ve never been to Portland know the airport’s tacky ‘80s-looking blue-green carpet is, for whatever reason, a beloved hipster icon. Portlanders love it. Socks, shoes, t-shirts and handbags are made to resemble it. People get tattoos of the carpet; people dress up as it for Halloween. It has its own Twitter and Facebook accounts. A few years ago, when the Port of Portland announced that it would be removing and replacing the old airport carpet, the unlikely depth of passion locals felt toward this carpet was revealed. Suddenly everyone who went through the airport had to take a photo of their feet with that carpet in the background, before it was lost forever. At one point you could even buy little sections of the old carpet to keep at home. It has since been replaced with a new, similar but slightly less vivid carpet, and locals have begrudgingly accepted the change, but the “foot selfies” are still a mandatory rite of passage.
Airport shops and restaurants tend to be generic chains, but Portland’s airport is more like a microcosm of the city. One of the first things you see when you get through airport security is a big sign for Stumptown Coffee, a Portland landmark. Next to that is the airport satellite of the beloved Country Cat restaurant, in case you didn’t get your fill of fried chicken and biscuits during your visit. There’s also an outlet of the much-adored Blue Star donuts, and in addition to the obligatory fast-food joints at the food court there are a couple of mobile food carts: ever so Portland. If you’re reluctant to leave the city’s famous craft beer scene (or you want an immediate introduction on arrival), you're also in luck, as the airport has no fewer than three outposts of Oregon craft breweries: Deschutes, Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) and Laurelwood.
Not your average airport shops
Do you have a long wait for your flight? Locally flavored shops at PDX include Made in Oregon (just what it sounds like), Tender Loving Empire (a painfully cute artisan gift shop that’s also a record label) and, of course, the world-famous Powell’s Books. Got even more time? Why not catch a movie? The excellent nonprofit Hollywood Theater has a free screening room here – you can pop in and watch short films made by local filmmakers, playing on a constant loop. All in all, the airport is a great introduction to the city, or a nice way to keep the Portland vibe going as you get ready to leave.
The practical stuff
Finally, PDX has a few less quirky, more practical advantages: it’s small and never very crowded. It has direct flights to London, Amsterdam, New York, Frankfurt, Iceland, Maui and more (and it might be getting one to downtown Tokyo’s Haneda airport in 2020). As noted above, it’s very close to the city center – even if you don’t want to ride your bicycle there, you can generally reach the airport in less than 30 minutes by car. Or you can take the MAX light-rail train ($2.50; $1.25 for ages 7-17 and over 65), which will spit you out at the bottom of the escalator up to the departure hall – just about as convenient as it gets. There’s also free, fast wi-fi everywhere and several quiet places to work. And did we mention the carpet?