PORTLAND — Travelers rushing to catch a flight Wednesday morning might have noticed a few differences since their last visit to Portland International Airport: Halfway down Concourse E, the sloped ceiling changed directions, rows of chairs with cupholders and charging stations popped up and the patterned green carpet shone a little brighter.
After two years of construction, the new $215 million Concourse E extension at PDX is now open to travelers.
The 830-foot extension adds six new gates to the north end of the airport and sports several local dining and retail options, including the first-ever Tillamook Cheese Factory outlet outside of Tillamook County, Ore.
Floor-to-ceiling windows provide travelers with plenty of natural light and a striking view of Mount Hood. Two colorful art installations made up of over 11,000 handmade kites from artist Jacob Hashimoto are suspended from the ceiling.
The new gates will now be home to all Southwest Airlines flights, which were formerly at Concourse C.
Port of Portland spokeswoman Kama Simonds said the extension will help alleviate traffic on the southside of the airport, where the two biggest carriers at PDX were located, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.
Simonds said it’s all about improving the travel experience while preventing excess wear and tear in those high-traffic areas.
Passenger traffic at the airport in July is about 27 percent of what it was last summer, when the airport handled up to 75,000 passengers a day on peak travel days, she said. Passenger volume amid the pandemic has slowly ticked upward since reaching its lowest point in April at just 5 percent of usual traffic at that time, she said.
According to Simonds, over 2,000 individuals worked on the project through its phases, including planning, manufacturing and construction.
Diane Sabel and Stu Neiman were two of the travelers to catch a flight out of the new extension Wednesday. They said that they often fly in and out of PDX as they alternate spending time in Sabel’s home in Las Vegas and Neiman’s home in Portland.
“It’s a beautiful airport,” Neiman said. “I wish the moving walkways were up and running, but we could use the exercise.”
Wednesday also marked the soft opening of the Tillamook Market, located right in the middle of the new extension. The restaurant and retail outlet offers exclusive Tillamook merchandise, a full menu featuring Tillamook products, and ice cream by the scoop.
Simonds said that soon Tillamook lovers who are not catching a flight will be able to pick up products curbside by ordering through the AtYourGate app.
The extension is part of PDXNext, a series of five construction projects underway at the airport, which are expected to cost roughly $2 billion. Simonds said the next project expected to be completed is the Concourse B extension in fall 2021.
“It’s a big day,” Simonds said Wednesday. “It’s fun to see a project that’s been in the works for two years come to fruition and to see people excited and talking about it.”