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

Portland International Airport is often known as “PDX”, but the story behind where “X” comes from is perhaps not so widely known.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland International Airport has become known 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 where the ‘X’ comes from may not be commonly known.

More than 19 million passengers traveled through PDX in 2019. It is ranked as America’s favorite airport, according to Travel + Leisure magazine – a mark that Oregon’s busiest airport has held several times before.

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 professor of urban studies at Portland State University.

Abbott dived deep into the history of Portland International Airport’s beginnings and wrote about it in an article for the Oregon Encyclopedia.

In the 1920s, Portland wanted its own municipal airport and turned its eyes to Swan Island.

“Of course, it was originally an island until the 1920s when the river was muddy, and much of the prey was collected on Svaneøya to flatten it out and connect it to the east side of the river,” said Abbott.

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

“According to the newspapers, he landed easily like a feather,” Abbott said.

In the mid-1930s, the airport rapidly grew out of 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 were added to the airport – enough to hold 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 for its airport code, PDX.

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

“X” is … a placeholder, “Abbott said.

In the 1940s, IATA began assigning three-letter codes after an increase in airports led to a lack of two-letter codes. Then with the National Weather Service symbol “PD”, they add “X”.

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

So the next time you pick up your luggage with the tag that reads PDX, now you know what’s in a name.

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