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Under normal circumstances - whatever they are - I would be sitting at my writers desk at Storyteller Central right now pounding out another column. But this morning I'm sitting in a talk studio in south Portland filling in for my colleague Mike McCardell. The talk studio is located in the offices of the Portland Radio Group in South Portland almost across the street from the Portland International Jetport (PWM).
I hadn't planned to be in the talk studio at this hour but circumstances required it and so here I am.
Driving through the streets of Greater Portland at 4:30 a.m. I am always surprised at how many other people are out and about. Are they on their way home after a night on the town or are they just beginning their day and heading for work? Who knows?
I'm also surprised to see how many traffic lights are going through their full colorful cycles - red, amber and green - at such an early hour. OK, there are some cars on the road but many times I find myself sitting all alone at a red light with no cars or drivers anywhere in sight.
It was at one of these lights on outer Congress Street that I noticed the fancy entrance to the Portland's airport or 'International Jetport,' as it's called, with the big letters PWM somehow superimposed over the airport's official name. You'll just have to go see to get what I'm talking about..
So there I am sitting there and before long I'm thinking about all the people over the years who have wondered allowed to me why Portland's airport has those particular three-letters - PWM - as its official international designation - recognized in airports around the globe to mean Portland International Jetport.
Would you like to know why, reader? Then, keep reading.
Many years ago when Portland was a lot sleepier and less pretentious than it is now - if you can believe there ever was such a time - it's airport had a name that fit those sleepy and less pretentious times. Portland's airport was simply called the "Portland-Westbrook Municipal Airport" - PWM.
So, when the federal government was passing out three-letter designations for each airport in the country federal officials gave Portland 'PWM.'
Simple enough.
When local officials began to think that 'Portland-Westbrook Municipal' sounded too sleepy and unpretentious for a city of Portland's self-importance so they decided to change the name to one that everyone agreed was very pretentious - if not downright pompous, or silly. They renamed the airport the Portland International Jetport, so folks around the country would know that whatever else we may lack in these parts we now had real jets in Portland and they required a real honest-to-goodness jetports. They also wanted the world to know that we had skyscrapers seven stories high but they didn't know exactly how they'd get all that in.
Anyway, once the airport's name was changed the PWM designation became meaningless. Ever since that name change airline travelers everywhere would become confused when the baggage guy in some far-off airport would put a PWM tag on their bag if it was heading for Portland. If they were bored they would also put PWM tags on other bags just for kicks. You know those airport cut-ups!
"Why does Portland get a PWM tag?" some weary traveler might ask.
"I dunno, it just does," the bored luggage guy would answer.
Sometimes, when I drive by the airport entrance on Congress Street and see those big letters - PWM - I think to myself, "Why doesn't someone start a movement to return Portland's airport to its original and rightful name - "Portland-Westbrook Municipal Airport?"
I'd be willing to start the movement myself but after getting up at 3 a.m. to do this talk show all week I need some sleep. But if you start the movement I'll help!
Sometime I'll tell you the story of when they came up with an idea to rename the airport "The Edmund S. Muskie Airport."
What an embarrassing incident that was for the city by the bay.
Contact John at: or write:
John McDonald, Storyteller Central, P.O. Box 301, South Paris, ME 04281
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