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Holiday Travel Tips to Survive PDX

by Jack Penning

Posted on December 20, 2005 at 4:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:46 PM

I first published these tips on this blog during the Thanksgiving holiday. But I got a good response, so I figured it'd be worth it to re-publish for the Christmas holiday travel period.

On the busier days this holiday, PDX will average about 45,000 passengers a day. It's gonna be a mess... especially early in the morning and late at night. So here's some things you can do to make your life a little easier!

- Get there early. I know... we hear this all the time. But it really does matter when the airport's jammed. They tell you 2-hours, but I always try for 90 minutes. Unless I'm parking there. Which leads me to my next tip.

- Get there EXTRA early if you're parking in the economy lot. Last Christmas, I flew out of PDX and tried to park in economy, but there were NO SPOTS when I got there at 6am. The lot was FULL. They had us parking on the side of the road. It took at least an hour to park and get to the terminal. I just made my flight (by about 48 seconds). So follow the 2-hour rule if economy parking is in your future.

- Take the MAX. It runs every 15-minutes in both directions, with the first train getting you to PDX at 4:45am... and the last one leaving PDX at 11:55pm. It costs $1.80 each way. A lot cheaper than $8/day for economy parking... or $12/day for long-term. For more information, check out Tri-Met's MAX page:

- Check-in on-line. Most airlines will now let you check-in for your flight, 24-hours ahead of time, on their websites. You can choose seats, and print-out boarding passes at home. Then you just drop-off your bags at the airport. This can save you an hour. And if you're flying Southwest, it can get you to the front of the line in the mad-scramble for the best seats.

- Check-in at an e-ticket machine. If you can't check-in at home, use an e-ticket machine at the airport, instead of waiting in-line for an agent. These PDX airlines have e-ticket check-in: Alaska/Horizon, America West/US Airways, American, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, jetBlue, Northwest, Southwest, and United. Air Canada, Big Sky, Frontier, Lufthansa, and Mexicana do not offer e-ticket check-in at PDX.

- Choose the shortest security line. This is a new one at PDX this Thanksgiving. The Port opened a "concourse connector" linking the A, B, and C concourses to the D and E concourses behind security. It was supposed to be for passengers connecting from Alaska and Horizon flights (on A, B, and C) onto the international flights to Tokyo and Frankfurt (on D). But... saavy travelers have quickly found they can use the D and E security checkpoint (with its typically shorter lines) to get to their gate on A, B, or C. It could save you 15 or 20 minutes at peak times. This should give you a good look at what I'm talking about:

- Check with the TSA before you pack your carry-on. Their list of allowed items changes every now and then, so it's a good idea to take a look at this:

So, you're not flying... but you have to drop someone off, or pick someone up. Here's some things to speed-up that process, too.

- Park on top of the garage. We all want to park on Level 4, because it has the skybridges that go directly across to the terminal. But this time of year, it's always packed. You'll waste time trying to find a spot there. So just go to Level 7, atop the garage, and park right next to the elevator. It'll end up saving you a few minutes.

- Quick Pay is your friend. You'll find the Quick Pay terminals on Level 4 of the parking garage and in the underground connector between the Terminal and the garage. Pay for your parking here, and you'll breeze right out of the parking gate.

- Use the Cell Phone Wait Lot. This is new to PDX this fall. There's a parking lot (on the left, just before you get to the garage) that's free for people picking-up passengers. Park there, and have your family/friends call you when they grab their bags. Then you can drive around and have them hop-in, without having to pay for parking. BEWARE: You can not park here and leave your car. You'll get a ticket... or be towed.

- Pick-up on the upper level. Sure, the signs say the upper level is for departures. But most of the time, and especially at night, the lower level is jammed with "pick-ups." Avoid that by picking-up your family/friends up above. And save a lot of time by using the upper, outer roadway. But don't stay too long, and don't leave your car, because the Port of Portland Police aren't too excited about people who do that... and they'll likely tow you.

Have a great trip... and we can't wait to see you back in Portland after the holidays!

If you have any more tricks you use at PDX, let me know. My e-mail address is I'd love to hear from you!