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The Travel 411: A Primer in Airport Codes

The Travel 411: A Primer in Airport Codes

I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty.” — Amelia Earhart

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Our Res Ipsa Kilim Weekender bag fits neatly in the overhead compartment. 

We love the feeling of flight. Nothing beats the unbounded optimism of boarding an airplane bound for someplace--anyplace--else. Travel inspires us to be creative and lends clarity. Traveling allows us to experience cities and continents and corners of the world where culture and civilizations crossover. Above all, travel makes us happy. And we thought it'd be fun to explain one of the opaque oddities of air travel: airport codes.

What do airport codes stand for? Why are they three letters? Why are they those three letters? What do airport codes stand for? We've explained all you need to know about airport codes so you'll have a little more knowledge the next time you board a flight. 

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Our Snuff Suede Loafers are the shoes your Kilim Weekender deserves.

According to a Business Insider article by Megan Willett, "Here's Why Some Airports Wind Up With Code Names That Make No Sense", there are eight basic reasons airport codes become three letter names. 

1. The code is named after the airport - JFK is named for John F. Kennedy International Airport.  

2. The code is named after the city - Boston Logan International Airport is BOS. Hartsfield-Jackson is ATL. 

3. The code is named for a historical figure - There are a lot of airports named after historical figures. Former New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia is (dis?)honored by the airport designated LGA. O'Hare International Airport is named after Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare, a World War II flying ace for the Navy. This category is tricky. Liverpool John Lennon Airport, obviously (but it was already assigned LPL before it was renamed for the native Beatle in 2001). 
Bonus fun fact: Washington Dulles (named for former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles) was once assigned the airport code DIA, with each letter corresponding to the initials of Dulles International Airport. However, when handwritten, it was often misread as DCA, the code for nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It was later reversed to IAD to avoid confusion

4. The code is a naval air station. Airports beginning with 'N' were monopolized by the Navy (Naval Air Station Pensacola: NPA). Here is where Nantucket comes in. Cities that begin with "N" never have airport codes that begin with "N". Hence, Nantucket is ACK, and Newark is EWR.


Res Ipsa's Flagship Store on ACK --- Nantucket, MA

5. Radio killed the W and K (video still killed the Radio Star) - Locations beginning with W are only for radio stations east of the Mississippi whereas those beginning with K are only for radio stations west of the Mississippi. So Wilmington, North Carolina becomes ILM and Key West, Florida is EYW. 

6. 'Q' is reserved for ruining your chances at winning Scrabble when you get stuck with it - 'Q' is reserved for International Communications.

7. 'Z' is also special - 'Z' is reserved for things like the address of the FAA's headquarters. 

Drake

8. 'Y' do Canadians always give us reasons besides Justin Bieber and Drake to hate on them? - They stole all the 'Y' codes. Toronto is YYZ. Yeah, makes sense? No, no it doesn't.


See the full list of airport codes.

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