Portland is wired for international travel—we’re Portland, after all. But as far as the Jet Age goes, our global debut was modest enough. In 1983, Portland became a once-weekly stop on United’s route from Chicago to Tokyo. But soon things started to get interesting:
In 1988, Delta selected Portland International Airport as its West Coast hub, adding more trans-Pacific flights to Asia. An eclectic assortment of other carriers would follow for stints in PDX, from Lufthansa to Mexicana to Air Canada.
Today, our little airport offers nonstops to 10 international destinations: Amsterdam, Guadalajara, San Jose del Cabo, Tokyo, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Frankfurt, Puerto Vallarta, and Reykjavik—the last five added (or restarted after a recessionary lull) since 2014. This selection makes PDX the country’s smallest metropolitan airport offering year-round nonstop flights to both Europe and Asia.
“We studied the great city of Portland for quite a while,” says Birkir Holm Gudnason of Icelandair, which added its seasonal flight from Portland to Reykjavik in May 2015. “Portland has the demographics and the connectivity to Europe that made it appealing to us. We studied the likely passenger mix—where passengers are originating from and where they are traveling.” The homework paid off: Icelandair plans a 53 percent increase in its flight schedule for 2016.
As airlines study Portland, the Port of Portland, in turn, studies the world. All year round, the port’s Air Service Development (ASD) team meets with domestic and international carriers to look at route opportunities, changing demographics, and evolving travel habits. In June, the team pitches its findings and ideas directly to airlines at JumpStart, an annual ASD conference. Negotiations can get complicated, with hefty subsidies and waived landing fees—in 2009, for example, the Port of Portland paid Delta Air Lines $3.5 million to maintain its direct service to Tokyo, the better to connect Portland’s economy with Japan’s.
The recent bloom of new flights is expected to continue. “We have a list of destinations where we know people are going, but we don’t have direct service yet,” says Kama Simmonds at the Port of Portland. While we await official word on the next exciting connections for PDX (Paris 2016?), let us revel in our good fortune: 10 flights to wildly different points around the globe. It’s time to take that flight.