A tale of 2 Portlands: Travelers still mix up Maine and Oregon

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The two Portlands – the original in Maine and the more well-known Oregon metropolis named after its East Coast predecessor – share little beyond a name.

Separated by more than 3,000 miles, one is a city of fewer than 70,000 residents, while the other has nearly 10 times that many in a metro area of almost 2.5 million – nearly twice the population of the state of Maine.

Portland International Jetport
The approach to the terminal at Portland International Jetport (PWM) — where some travelers bound for Portland International Airport in Oregon (PDX) still occasionally end up. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Nonetheless, if you can believe what you see on Twitter, people can still believe they are headed to one Portland, only to end up in the other.

“A coworker ended up in Portland, ME, instead of Portland, OR,” Paul Farrar, of Texas, recently tweeted on a thread about wrong destinations. “He was on a work trip in Boston (MA, not TX) and bought a ticket for Portland, the agent sold him one for ME, and he didn’t notice the difference until arrival after a very short flight.”

Another Twitter user, using the name Jimmy Jab, added this:

“My favorite was working in Portland, OREGON and a woman got off the plane wondering why her flight to ‘Portland, Maine’ took longer than expected. The realization she was 3 time zones and a completely different coast away from where she wanted to be was *chefs kiss emoji*.”

It can be easy to just brush off random tweets as either total fabrications or crafty embellishments. But that still begs the question: How often do travelers confuse the two Portlands?

“We had been seeing it pre-COVID, and I would say most of them were from international destinations where maybe the travel agent typed in ‘Portland’ and took the cheapest fare, and they didn’t necessarily have the right Portland,” Zachary Sundquist, assistant director at the Portland International Jetport, said. “With COVID, those accidental destinations have really decreased significantly, and so has the international travel component.”

In 2022, given the widespread availability of the internet and information on travel itineraries, Sundquist admitted, it is hard to imagine domestic travelers ending up in the wrong Portland. While it may have been more likely when travelers were relying on agents to make plans, today’s travelers have a better handle on travel planning, he said.

Pre-COVID, Sundquist said, PWM would probably see “one or two passengers a week during the summer,” largely from Eastern Europe or Africa, who ended up in Maine when they meant to go to Oregon. Depending on the airline, he said, those passengers might stay in a Maine hotel for a day until the airline could get them a new flight. Others might not even have to leave the airport and could be on their way west the same day.

“It has occurred, (although) it certainly has not occurred much over the past (couple) years,” he said.

Kama Simonds, media relations manager for Portland International Airport in Oregon, said it was “shocking” to hear people continued to mistake the two cities, given how far apart they are. She did not have data on how often it has occurred and suggested individual airlines may have the statistics.

“If a passenger landed in the wrong place, they would connect with their airline rep to get things squared away, not airport staff,” Simonds said.

She did, however, know of one incident last year involving a family of three who didn’t speak English and ended up in Oregon instead of Maine.

According to a press release from the airport at the time, TSA agent Martin Rios provided translation assistance for the family and determined they were on the wrong side of the country because the family’s travel agency had mistakenly booked them a flight to Oregon rather than Maine. By the time the family met with Rios they had been at the airport for more than a day and had limited funds remaining.

“I knew that I didn’t really have it in me to turn them away and just go back to work like nothing happened,” Rios said in the release.

He booked them a flight to Maine, using his own money.

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