“How do they decide on airport codes?” is the sort of vapid, banal wondering of departure lounges full of bored, frustrated and delayed passengers. And who is the ‘they’? But it turns out that there’s logic behind almost every code, researched by a couple of aviation trivia cracks back in 2003.

We’ve trawled through the thousands of airports that we compare airfare tickets to find some of the best names and codes (complete with guides). Some are obvious, some are funny and some, frankly, need revised.

Why do airport codes have three letters?

The coding system was arranged in the 1930s by Montreal based International Air Transport Association (IATA). It replaced the original two letter system as the number of airstrips being built was increasing. Codes are assigned according to the airport, the city it’s in and sometimes a person that the airport has been named after or is linked to. For instance, Leningrad (although now St. Petersburg) still goes by LED.

Obvious airport codes

If you don’t know what JFK stands for, we don’t know what to say to you. How about SYD, MIA and SIN? That’s Sydney, Miami and Singapore. The pattern becomes obvious. But how about OGG, ABZ and FAT? Not so easy. An X is often used as a filler letter for those that have limited options left to them, for example LAX, Los Angeles. Which brings us onto the next point.

Number ones and number twos

You’d think some code choices were choice cuts of an overheard kindergarten conversation. Russia’s Bolshoye Savino Airport has to put up with being called PEE, number one on our list in more than one way. Apt number two is Poços de Caldas in Brazil, better remembered by its POO code. France is just taking the PIS with Poitiers–Biard Airport.

Worrying names and codes

Some are so badly named you might not even risk flying there. Rifle Airport in Colorado, USA is case in point. We wonder if your bags would be searched for long range firearms if security overheard you saying the name of the building you’re in? Danger Bay Airport in Alaska is a bit more ambiguous. Perhaps the scariest is Cue in Australia – two words nobody wants to hear in the same sentence.

Fictional airports

There’s Batman Airport in Turkey (BAL) and Homer Simpson’s very own DOH (Doha, Qatar). With a bit of imagination you can string together an international Godfather trilogy: Deadhorse (SCC) of Alaska, Mafia  (MFA) in Tanzania and an investigative outfit in none other than Italy’s Ciampino – CIA. No kiddin’.

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