Proud Oregonians and visitors adore the Portland International Airport (PDX) for its abundance of art; uniquely local food, drinks and shops; cozy neighborhood-y vibe, and — above all, its iconic carpet. Where else can you take a shoe selfie that’s instantly recognized around the globe?
PDX is so revered, in fact, that it’s consistently been recognized as one of the best in the world. In 2021, PDX reclaimed its No. 1 title as Travel + Leisure’ top domestic airport in the world, a title it’s held for eight of the past nine years. But now it’s gotten even better.
How’s that possible? Try adding more local food and drink (yes, we’re talking chicken and waffles); more nature-inspired art (including rainbow-hued cloud windows); comfy seats and plug-in stations for your devices; and a spacious, inviting rental car facility that no longer requires hopping on a shuttle.
It’s all part of the ongoing effort to double the footprint of the airport while still being energy-efficient. Several major additions just opened to travelers in late 2021; the rest of the phases will roll out through fall 2025, when the expanded capacity will accommodate 35 million annual passengers (up from 20 million) and be more earthquake resistant. The construction started in 2019 with the demolition of Concourse A. The $2 billion renovation is paid for by the airlines at PDX as well as the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration.
Here’s a look at the latest changes — but to truly appreciate it, you’ll have to go see for yourself.
If you’re flying on Alaska and Horizon Air regional routes, you’ll get to experience the new light, bright and beautiful Concourse B. With 500 seats and 300 charging stations, the only worry you’ll have is getting too comfortable and missing your flight.
Travelers can watch the runways and bask in natural light from 38-foot floor-to-ceiling windows on the north wall, which save on energy costs. Glass panels comprise a “Cloud Walk” that showcases happy cloud patterns and a shimmery rainbow effect that changes with your perspective.
Rows of hanging greenery on the mezzanine and wood paneling on the south wall add the cozy forest vibe. The paneling is called “Habitat Tiles,” made from Oregon white oak that’s been sourced from sustainably managed forests within 60 miles of Salem. The slats are carved into 25 distinct patterns to represent the five dominant Pacific Northwest habitats: beach, grassland, temperate rainforest, high desert and mountain. See how many of those landscapes you’ve experienced.
For this space, Portland-based ZGF Architects embraced the design principle of biophilia, the use of space and light to connect people with nature to promote physical and mental wellbeing.
Among the wooden tiles is an installation called “Sentinels,” made of panels of engraved steel portraits of some of Oregon’s most iconic places photographed by artist Ryan! Feddersen, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Tacoma. Within the landscapes you’ll also see a large graphic eye, an optical illusion known as a lenticular portrait. Feddersen says the pieces reflects Indigenous concepts about people’s relationship to the land; the large eye is a reminder that the land sees us, too.
All three of the interactive displays – the Cloud Walk, Habitat Tiles and Sentinels — are part of Feddersen’s grand artwork, called “Inhabitance.”
Yet another mural at the entrance to Concourse B (through December 2022) is a nod to the Oregon Cultural Trust’s 20th anniversary license plate, “Celebrate Oregon!” It’s a great way to pass the time while you wait to board: See how many of the 127 symbols Eugene-based artist Liza Burns has hidden in her display. Use your phone to scan the QR code for a key to each of the symbols, or find an interactive key here. For instance, a women’s basket hat honors the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a cowboy hat honors Black rodeo hero George Fletcher. Ken Kesey’s Furthur bus, a wagon wheel, a chanterelle mushroom, a hazelnut and chinook salmon are all part of this visual tribute to Oregon culture.
Hungry yet? For brunch fans, perhaps the most exciting addition will be the newest location of Portland’s venerated Southern comfort-food restaurant Screen Door. With its famous chicken and waffles, mac and cheese and Creole pecan pie, the restaurant is set to open with café seating on the upper level of Concourse B in spring 2022. Just a little added incentive to get to your gate early.
Portland-based Good Coffee, a specialty roaster known for its charitable giving to local organizations, is also set to open at Concourse B in spring 2022, bringing caffeinated joy and pastries to waiting passengers. Items will be takeout only, with bags of fresh-roasted beans making the perfect last-minute travel gift.
Rental Car Center
As of November 2021, renting a car at PDX is as easy as walking from your gate under a covered walkway to the new rental car center, which houses the airport’s 11 rental car partners: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Payless, Thrifty, as well as new additions Sixt and Zipcar.
Eliminating the need for rental-car shuttles moves PDX one step closer to reducing congestion on the roadway — in addition to making it quicker and more convenient for visitors. With the rental car center, PDX became the first airport in the region to use a new technology called CarbonCure, which reduces carbon emissions by permanently trapping more carbon dioxide in the concrete. The technology is now available to other projects in the area as well.
(Sidenote on sustainability: PDX takes its footprint seriously. When the main terminal opens in 2024, the goal is to use 50% less energy at the airport even after doubling in size. The airport will reopen with a new ground source heat system, which transfers heat to or from the ground, reducing demand for boilers and chillers. The use of natural light, more efficient lighting and improvements to the air distribution and heat recovery systems also go a long way to reducing the airport’s environmental impact.)
Three permanent art pieces grace the new rental car space. Inspired by local forests, a giant curved Douglas fir wood installation by artist Ben Butler warms up the escalator space on the way down to the rental car center; a spring-y pastel-hued graphic mural printed on fabric by Portland artist Perez Westbrooks fills the center with a cheery display of native plants; and a massive steel honeycomb-like sculpture by DeWitt Godfrey will soon greet visitors just outside of the rental car center. Overall, this new space received more than $30 million in design and construction services by women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses.
Travelers will find more dining as well as shops, captivating artwork and comfortable spots to relax and recharge over on Concourse E — the new home of Southwest Airlines gates — which opened to visitors July 2020.
The newest spots to eat here include Tillamook Market, serving up the famous coastal classics: fried cheese curds, grilled cheese sandwiches, an ice cream counter and a selection of grab-and-go items travelers can carry home in insulated bags. There’s also Vietnamese food at Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen, healthy salads at Evergreens, smoothies at Jamba, coffee at Starbucks and Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and donuts at the Blue Star Donuts cart. Not to mention some of Portland’s best sandwiches at Lardo and local spirits at soon-to-come cocktail bar Juliett, a landmark lounge from the Lightning Bar Collective — the team behind hip Portland bars including Sweet Hereafter and the Bye and Bye.
Shoppers can browse for gifts and accessories at Calliope by cc McKenzie, Your Northwest Travel Mart and the newest Portland location of Tender Loving Empire, a shop full of curated goods by independent makers and artists (not to mention a secret record store in the back).
The most dazzling part of Concourse E is the ceiling art: Look up, and you’ll see two canopies of kite-like discs called “The City and “The Sky,” by Pacific Northwest artist Jacob Hashimoto. Made from bamboo and screen-printed paper, the 11,000 different kite shapes hold various designs: Some trace the paths of the Willamette and Columbia rivers; others feature roses, pearls and even the PDX carpet pattern.
If You Go:
- Visitors looking for trip-planning help (or just have a question about where to find a great meal) in Oregon may stop by the Travel Oregon Welcome Center near the baggage claim at PDX. Friendly staff members are happy to chat with you about hotels, attractions and more, as well as hand out free visitor guides, maps and other resources for exploring.
- What’s something you’re looking forward to saying hello to in 2022? Share it with PDX by Jan. 31, 2022 and you could win a pair of roundtrip tickets on Alaska Airlines from Portland International Airport.