Ever wonder how an airport gets its Code?

MIA, JFK, SEA, SFO. Some airports are iconic, and it’s really easy to see where they get their names. But what about airports like MSY (New Orleans), SDF (Louisville), ORD (Chicago), EZE (Buenos Aires), and SMF (Sacramento). Now, there’s a website that will break down those strange codes for you!

Airportcod.es  is a fantastically fun time sink that I’ll admit to spending hours and hours on. This site was designed and built by Lynn Fisher and Nick Crohn and is maintained by them. You can contribute your own airport if its not there, but with a running total now of almost 1,100 airports in 193 countries, you can be sure that its probably on the list.

The examples above

All these descriptions are from the website:

MSY (New Orleans):

In 2001, the airport was named after jazz legend Louis Armstrong, but was previously called Moisant Field, after aviator John Moisant. Its airport code came from the nearby Moisant Stock Yards.

SDF (Louisville):

Before being renamed in 1995, Louisville International was known as StanDiFord Field, honoring former state senator Elisha David Standiford.

YVR Airport

YVR Airport

ORD (Chicago)

Before the airport was renamed after Medal of Honor recipient Edward O’Hare in 1949, it was known as ORcharD Field Airport.

EZE (Buenos Aires)


Named after former Minister of Public Works, Juan Pistarini, the Buenos Aires airport’s code comes from EZEiza city where the airport is located.

SMF (Sacramento)

When Sacramento International was built, the airport code SAC was already taken by (then named) Sacramento Municipal Airport. So it took its code from its original name, Sacramento Metropolitan Field.

Some other fun ones

Have some fun on your own looking at your home town and things near you. I’ve found that there are some really interesting international ones. Some of my favorites are KIX, MCO, ORD, MXP, RAK, RSW, SDU, FAT, SOB, and STS.

Did I miss something fun? Let us know what your favorite or unique airport code is!

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. I have a different take on the Chicago airport. There were three air fields in the area. Orchard was one, Ravenswood was the second (a large plane crashed close to a old Ravenswood air hanger back in the 60ies or 70ies) and during the war Douglas had a air plane manufacturing plant at the present airport site. So that’s how we got ORD. Let me know who is right.

    Post a Reply
    • Jon has it right — Orchard Field.

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  2. This one really seems like it came out of left field…
    Before changing its name in 1972, Kansas City International was originally known as Mid-Continent International Airport.

    While the airport code might seem obvious, you might find the history interesting.

    Originally named (and often still called) Gowen Field, Boise Airport honored U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Paul R. Gowen. Its airport code honors its home in BOIse.

    BTW, I work at Gowen Field, which nowadays is understood to mean “the other side of the airport runways,” occupied by the Air and Army National Guard base offices. Technically it’s a separate site that shares a fence line with the airport and the Air and Army Guard uses the runways. We still tend to use the code GWN when referring to the Air/Army Guard base.

    Here’s another airport I frequent with a code that not immediately intuitive…

    Before being renamed in 1960, Spokane International was known as GEiGer Field, honoring U.S. Army aviator, Major Harold Geiger.

    BTW… not in the database yet and not too far from Spokane in Hayden, ID is Pappy Boyington Field, also known as Coeur d’Alene Airport. It’s not a major airport, but it is public municipal airport that has huge history. From Wikipedia:

    The airport was known as Coeur d’Alene Air Terminal until September 2007, when it was renamed Coeur d’Alene Airport / Pappy Boyington Field to honor World War II multiple ace Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington (1912–1988), a Medal of Honor recipient born in Coeur d’Alene.

    Another trivial point, while the airport code is COE, Coeur d’Alene is generally abbreviated by the locals as Cd’A or CDA. I just submitted the addition request to Lynn Fisher. Hope to see it added! Thanks for the fun article. I blame you for my lost productivity today! 😉

    Post a Reply
    • You should add them! They’re growing!

      Post a Reply
  3. Why do all Canadian airports start with a Y? There is no “Y” in Canada… or Toronto… or Montreal… etc.

    Post a Reply
    • There are a bunch of theories on this, but here’s the most popular one: Canadian airports used to only have 2-letter codes. The IATA decided that airport codes should have 3 letters instead of 2. Instead of renaming all of their airports, they decided to just add a “Y” in front.

      Post a Reply
  4. How about the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport in Florida – PIE?????

    Post a Reply
    • It was originally called Pinellas International Airport and given the IATA designation, PIE, which it still uses, because PIA was already taken by Peoria International Airport.

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