Architects, airline employees, Port of Portland leaders, local politicians, and more gathered at PDX Tuesday morning to say farewell to an already-sealed-off Concourse A, which saw its final flight depart last Wednesday night with a glow-stick-lit ceremonial walk to the plane.
The closure of Concourse A, opened in 1988 and meant to be temporary, marks the next step in PDX’s ongoing renovations. A new Concourse F is going up at the east end of Concourse E and expected to open next summer, and a future core overhaul will push the main terminal out 150 feet to the west.
With treats from future airport vendors Good Coffee and Screen Door and an all-1988 DJ set (including Public Enemy, Bobby McFerrin, Talking Heads, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and, very fitting for some in the crowd who were involved in Concourse A’s initial construction or have worked at the airport a long time, Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional”), the farewell party found a representative from ZGF Architects promising greenery, natural light, “clarity of wayfinding,” and “reduced stress” in the new and improved concourse to come. Port of Portland executive director Curtis Robinhold read a poem with lines pulled from social media comments that called the ground-level, low-ceilinged old Concourse A “the least favorite corner of America's most loved airport” and “the pit of despair,” where actually boarding your flight was never a certainty “as gate announcers compete to be heard” and passengers risked getting on the wrong plane at the end of a long, outdoor walk.
Not all the memories were bad ones. In attendance were SkyWest flight attendant Sami Petricka and her fiancé, Cameron La Fleur. In May, La Fleur bought himself a ticket so he could get through security (Petricka's SkyWest benefits made it easy for him to cancel it later) and asked the airline staff to let him “hijack the gate.” (Please note this is the most innocuous airport-related use of “hijack” ever—well done, sir!) He took over the PA so Petricka heard his voice proposing marriage when she entered the concourse after her flight.
The happy couple are planning an October 2020 wedding. The Concourse A/B replacement is expected to open the following year, in summer 2021. In the meantime, flights that only left out of Concourse A now leave from the once-desolate west end of Concourse C. Instead of A’s old cramped Laurelwood brewpub and lone Starbucks, the displaced passengers, mostly flying on Alaska and Horizon, now enjoy improved proximity to many of the restaurants and shops that help win PDX praise as the country's best airport. The new gate area is also a stone's throw from McDonald's. It's a longer walk, but at least a flight to Seattle no longer begins in Prince Humperdinck's torture chamber.