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Where does ‘X’ come from in PDX | What’s in a name?

Portland International Airport is commonly referred to as “PDX”, but the origin of the “X” may not be as well known.

PORTLAND, Oregon – Portland International Airport has become famous for a cultural phenomenon: as part of a tradition, travelers take pictures of their feet against the famous green carpet. The airport is also known as “PDX”, but the origin of the “X” may not be known to everyone.

More than 19 million passengers flew via PDX in 2019. It’s ranked as America’s favorite airport, according to Travel + Leisure magazine – a brand Oregon’s busiest airport has held multiple times previously.

The airport is located along the Columbia River in northeast Portland and construction began in the 1920s.

“This is a time when people are starting to think about the possibilities of commercial aviation,” said Carl Abbott, a retired urban studies professor at Portland State University.

Abbott dove deep into the early history of Portland International Airport and wrote about it in an article for the Oregon Encyclopedia.

In the 1920s, Portland wanted its own municipal airport and set its sights on Swan Island.

“Of course it was originally an island until the 1920s when the river was dredged, and a lot of the loot was piled up on Swan Island to flatten it and connect it to the east side of the river,” Abbott said.

On September 14, 1927, Swan Island Airport opened for business. He even brought famous aviator Colonel Charles Lindbergh, who landed in front of a crowd in his plane, Spirit of St. Louis.

“According to the logs, he landed as light as a feather,” Abbott said.

In the mid-1930s, the airport quickly outgrew its place on Swan Island and moved to its current location in northeast Portland. It was renamed Portland Columbia Airport and opened on October 13, 1940.

Longer runways have been added to the airport – enough to accommodate large commercial jets for international flights. Then in 1951, the airport changed its name again.

Today it is known as Portland International Airport, but it is also widely known by its airport code, PDX.

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These three letters are not random. They are awarded by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The “P” stands for the beginning of the word “Portland” and the “D” the end of the word, but what about the X?

“The ‘X’ is…a placeholder,” Abbott said.

In the 1940s, IATA began assigning three-letter codes after an increase in the number of airports led to a shortage of two-letter codes. So, taking the National Weather Service symbol from ‘PD’, they added the ‘X’.

Several other airports have also added an “X”. Phoenix changed from “PH” to “PHX” and Los Angeles changed from “LA” to “LAX”.

So the next time you claim your luggage with the tag saying PDX, you’ll now know what’s in a name.

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