In the world of charter flights, we tend to talk in codes, you know, LAX, JFK…But beyond the biggest of the airport codes, which ones do you know? And have you ever heard the origin of airport codes, or the silliest ones out there? In this post, we delve into the funny and surprising life and origin of airport codes.

What is the history of airport codes?

Once upon a time, airports used the same two letters for their codes that the National Weather Service used for cities. Back then, they didn’t think they’d need three letters, so airport codes were simply, ‘LA.’ In the 1930’s, however, demand for airline service and charter flights skyrocketed, and communities that didn’t have weather codes now needed airport codes. To solve the problem, someone decided to add a third letter. Now the people handing out the codes had a whopping 17, 576 possible combinations to work with. Airports that already had two-letter codes tended to tack on an ‘X.’ And that’s why we call it ‘LAX.’

Who assigns airport codes used for commercial & charter flights?

Cities with weather stations often used the same letter code, until there was a spike in commercial and charter flights in the thirties.

Airport codes are assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is based in Montréal. Airports around the world receive their codes from IATA. Most IATA codes match the city or airport name in some way, but not always. Did you read our article about the man behind Chicago’s O’Hare International? It’s a fascinating story, but what puzzles many today is why the airport’s code is ORD. Before it was named after war hero Edward ‘Butch’ O’Hare—at the suggestion of a Chicago newspaperman—the airport was called Orchard Field, and its code was ORD. The code stuck. Anyone’s who has landed in Canada may have noticed that all their airport codes begin with a letter ‘Y.’ Take Vancouver, YVR, for example. Or Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, YYZ.

Which cities have the most well-known airport codes?

Which cities have the silliest airport codes?

  • PIE, Clearwater International Airport, St. Petersburg, Fla.,
  • RUT, Southern Vermont Regional Airport, Rutland, Vermont
  • GRR, Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • FAT, Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Fresno, California.
  • SUX, Sioux Gateway Airport, Sioux City, Iowa

(But they shouldn’t feel too bad: There’s a PEE [Bolshoye Savino Airport, Russia], and a POO [Poco De Caldas Airport, Brazil]. 

Which cities have the most boring airport codes?

Some of these airport codes are just too easy:

  • ANC, Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage
  • BOS, Logan International Airport, Boston
  • DEN, Denver International Airport, Denver
  • HOU, William B. Hobby Airport, Houston
  • MIA, Miami International Airport, Miami

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