BOB, FAT, MOO and SIN — all about airport codes

If you have flown, you have probably noticed the 3 letter code that’s put on your baggage label that the airline attaches to your checked bags. The point of this is so that the baggage handlers know where your bags are going to — although the system doesn’t always work! These standard 3 letter codes are also widely used by pilots, controllers and others in the aviation industry.

If you had the above codes on your checked bags, they would be going to Bora-Bora, Fresno (California), Moomba (Australia) and Singapore respectively. But be careful of airport agents putting the wrong code on your checked bags — a bag going to Salt Lake City (SLC) can easily end up in Santiago, Chile! (SCL) And Madrid (MAD) can be confused with Chenai, India (MAA).

Airport codes are designated by IATA and there are over 10,000 airports around the world with designated codes — they range from primitive landing strips to major international airports.

Some of the codes are obvious and are familiar to people who don’t work in the airline industry – JFK (Kennedy, New York) and LAX. (Los Angeles International) But some codes aren’t so obvious unless you know the story behind them…

The code for Chicago O’Hare (ORD) comes from the airport’s old name. An aircraft factory known as Orchard Place once stood on the spot, later it became an airport and the name was changed to Orchard Field. And MCO (Orlando) doesn’t stand for Mickey and Company — the code comes from the name of the Air Force base that once was on the spot — McCoy Field. Cincinnati (CVG) airport isn’t in Ohio at all — it’s actually in neighboring Kentucky, near the town of Covington.

Canadian city codes are the most illogical and confusing — apparently, when it came to assigning codes, all the obvious ones had already been taken! So Canadian city codes all begin with the letter Y — Calgary is YYC, Vancouver is YVR, Winnipeg is YWG and Montreal is YUL.

By the way, many airline jobs require you to commit to memory a long list of the most commonly used airport codes, which can be quite a challenge!

Guest entry by Mancunian

Filed Under: Airlines + flying

Comments (6)

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  1. elena says:

    I love your web site but Fresno’s airport — formerly known as FAT — is now FYI, Fresno Yosemite International. 🙂

  2. Elena says:

    I do enjoy your blog. Allow me to make a small adjustment: Fresno airport, formerly known as FAT for Fresno Air Terminal, is now FYI (Fresno Yosemite International).

  3. Elena says:

    I suppose I just HAD to make myself clear. Shrug. City pride being what it is and all. 🙂 Guess I made my point, eh?

  4. mancunian says:

    Thanks for the update..didnt know Fresno’s code had changed! Can’t resist another airport code joke..would you be a MADMAN if you flew between those two cities..?

  5. Steven says:

    Fresno airport code is now FYI??? I didn’t know that and I live in Fresno…

  6. ben bethel says:

    Don’t forget – all 3 letter codes are supposed to be switching to 4 letter codes soon due to the number of letters. The US is adding “K” to the beginning of each code.

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