Flying with Fish recently had a very interesting article on airport codes. He shared some very interesting airport codes from CIA to SUX. Airport codes fascinate me. I even made a joke about them in my post – 10 signs you know you fly too much. How many of you reading this article refer to cities by their airport codes rather than their names, especially in conversations not related to travel? I have found that I have stopped writing city names when I write. New York is NYC, London is LHR, Los Angeles is LAX, Dubai DXB and so on.
Airports mostly have obvious codes. The code usually is a three letter abbreviation of the city name – SFO from San Francisco, DEL from Delhi, FRA from Frankfurt. Others seem to be more unique or even illogical. Here are a few.
Airports in Canada do not have weird codes. They just all begin with a ‘Y’ (as opposed to ending with an ‘ay’…). The other two characters in each name come from the city name. So, we have YVR for Vancouver, YWG for Winnipeg, YQB for Quebec, etc.
City names but…
In some cases even though the airport code is based on the city name, the codes turn out to be pretty un-obvious. Two good examples are EWR for Newark, NJ and ORF for Norfolk, VA.
Some airport codes are based on the name of the airport, rather than the city. LGA in New York is named so as the airport is named LaGuardia, after a famous local politician. Same goes for IAD for Washington DC’s Dulles airport, ORD for Chicago’s O’Hare airport and MDW for Chicago’s Midway.
While a significant number of airports are really international airports, few chose to include the letter ‘X’ in their names to signify them as such. For example LAX and PDX for Los Angeles and Portland international airports. One explanation that has been given to me is that these airports added the X when they went from two letter to three letter codes. Other cities like X too (marks the spot?). Dubai’s airport is DXB. I must note here that it is one of the best airports I have ever passed thru.
The best example of an airport named after a person and also have the airport code be the persons initials is of course New York’s JFK airport, named so after President John F. Kennedy. Another example is CDG for Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, the city with the best hotels in Paris City Centre.
Some airports truly have multiple identities. An interesting example is SNA, which I flew to recently. The airport is for Santa Ana, CA. Hence the code. But the airport is also referred to as Orange County airport and John Wayne airport. C’mon, make up your mind. Parents should know this airport as it is the closest airport to Disneyland.
It has to happen. After a while codes that can be made up of characters from the city’s name run out and we end up with codes like PNQ for Pune and ATQ for Amritsar, both in India (what’s with the Q?).
Another problem facing airport codes is changing city names. While this does not seem to happen in the developed world, in developing countries trying to lose remnants of their colonial past, cities have been renamed to pre-colonial names. Famous examples are PEK, for Beijing, China, from the original name of Peking. BOM for Mumbai, India, from the original name Bombay and MAA for Chennai, also in India, from Madras.
Anyone else know an interesting airport code? Leave a comment below.
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