In 1994 my brother started grad school at the University of Kansas, meaning I no longer got to make solo visits to see him in San Francisco, his home for the previous four years. While Lawrence, Kansas, wasn’t as exciting to teenage me as being handed a bus map and some change and told to go explore San Francisco while he was at work, his new college town grew on me in visits over the next decade or so.
One thing I never got used to, though, was the airport, 50 minutes away in Missouri: Kansas City International, a.k.a. MCI (a code holdover from its former name, Mid-Continent
International). It somehow served a major metropolitan area (one with a Major League Baseball team, even!) while being as small potatoes as you could get. Nearly every gate had its own metal detector and X-ray belt. If you needed to grab a snack or visit the bathroom, you’d often have to exit security and come back through. The only upside: the security line was always short, one gate’s worth of travelers and friends seeing them off. (Gather round, children, and I’ll tell you of the olden days when you could walk someone to their flight and watch them board, or greet them as they deplaned. I’ll bring visual aids from Sleepless in Seattle, indie charmer Jump Tomorrow, and “The Puppy Episode” of the sitcom Ellen.)
A post-9/11 renovation added more restroom and restaurant options, with security checkpoints serving a cluster of gates instead of just one, but it was still hard not to feel trapped, awash with regret you hadn’t gotten that marginally superior-looking lunch in the main terminal area, visible just beyond the glass, instead of having to settle for the one lousy food purveyor you could access beyond security.
My brother doesn’t live in Kansas anymore, so aside from the occasional Southwest connection I don’t visit MCI nowadays. I hear they’re finally building a new terminal: a local tells me there’s some worry about the lines that come with centralized security checkpoints, but people are “generally excited” to have less need go through a body scanner or a pat-down multiple times.
Meanwhile, in Portland, a plane ticket grants anyone admission to what’s essentially a really cool, meticulously curated, hyperlocal mall; a giddy survey of what makes this place unique. Post-security, you can get a beer at multiple local brewery outposts (there’s even beer at the PDX Burgerville), watch short films at the Hollywood Theatre, and grab chowder from Oregon Coast chain Mo’s. It’s all just so ... enjoyable. In fact, the only downside is trying to choose where to spend your preflight downtime. In this issue, we salute this aviation wonder with an exhaustive guide to PDX: find out where to eat, where to shop, and why it might be worth your while to get there early. If your travels have you changing planes in lesser airports (and with Portland named the best airport in the country seven years running, they’re all lesser airports), well, I wish you luck. You might want to pack a lunch before you take off from PDX.