How Exactly do Airports get their Codes?
If you’ve ever flown into an airport and wondered how in the world you managed to go from SDF to ORD (that’s Louisville to Chicago) and instead not from LOU to CHI, you’re not alone. The mystery of some airports’ codes goes back decades and often has nothing to do with the actual city, the airport, or the area itself.
Some airports like SEA (Seattle), MIA (Miami), RDU (Raleigh Durham), and DEN (Denver) are obvious… but what about airports that you might not know, like GEG (Spokane), MSY (New Orleans), BNA (Nashville)? How did they get their funky codes?
One of my favorite websites on the internet is Airport Codes, a self funded, self-sourced list of all the airports they can scrounge up, and how they got their names. If you’re stuck inside and want a good read, you could spend hours here checking out all of the strange, unique, and frankly inappropriate airport codes that exist.
Many of the descriptions come from the website themselves, to whom I am eternally grateful for their dedication and hard work, and hours of entertainment for me!
Here’s a few of the ones in the USA, and a couple abroad, that will have you wondering “how in the world…?”
Nashville – BNA
Nashville International was originally named after Colonel Harry S. Berry. Codes with first letter ‘N’ were reserved for the U.S. Navy, so it used Berry Field NAshville to get BNA.
Fresno, California – FAT
Located about 60 miles south of its namesake national park, Fresno Yosemite International Airport was renamed in 1947 from Fresno Air Terminal.
Spokane, WA – GEG
This one threw me for a loop. Before being renamed in 1960, Spokane International was known as GEiGer Field, honoring U.S. Army aviator, Major Harold Geiger. Count your blessings that you didn’t have to come up with that one. Get it? Geiger? Count? #DadJokes
New Orleans, LA – MSY
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. Also, you could just say it stood for misery, because when I think of New Orleans in the summer heat, it’s miserable.
Maui, HI – OGG
Kahului Airport is named after its home city, but its airport code honors Hawaiian-born pilot Bertram J. HOGG.
Chicago, IL – ORD
Before the airport was renamed after Medal of Honor recipient Edward O’Hare in 1949, it was known as ORcharD Field Airport. Not to be confused with the other Chicago airport, Midway (MDW) which makes more sense!
Louisville, KY – SDF
Before being renamed in 1995, Louisville International was known as StanDiFord Field, honoring former state senator Elisha David Standiford.
Sioux City, IA – SUX
SioUX City petitioned twice to have its airport code SUX changed. With no great alternatives, they stuck with it and now use the slogan “Fly SUX.”
Some International Gems
The naming fun isn’t just limited to the USofA, there are plenty of international unique airports as well. You have probably flown into a couple of these before.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – EZE
Named after former Minister of Public Works, Juan Pistarini, the Buenos Aires airport’s code comes from EZEiza Partido where the airport is located. No one really calls it Buenos Aires, but refers to it as Ezeiza, since the other airport, the City airport is AEP, AEroParque.
Perm, Russia – PEE
Located in the village of Bolshoye Savino, Perm International gets its airport code from an alternate English spelling of Perm, PErEm.
Quito, Ecuador – UIO
Mariscal Sucre International is named after Antonio José de Sucre who fought for the independence of Quito, in what is now Ecuador. Because the FCC reserved codes starting with ‘Q’, it opted for other letters from its home city of QUItO.
Moscow, Russia – SVO
Opened in 1959, SheremetyeVO International is located in the city of Khimki, but was named after the nearby village of Sheremetyevsky.
Rio de Janiero, Brazil – GIG
Formerly known as Galeão Air Force Base, Galeão International was created in 1941 on Governador Island’s Galeão Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
Sembach, Germany – SEX
Sembach Kaserne is a United States Army installation in Sembach, Germany. Its airport code comes from its former name as SEmbach AnneX.
Berlin, Germany – TXL
Many airports use the letter ‘X’ to fill in when the desired letters are already taken. This Berlin airport get its code from its home in the borough of TegeL plus that helpful ‘X’. Although, we don’t expect this one to be open for too much longer.
Paris, France – CDG
Renamed and officially opened in 1974, France’s largest airport is named after Charles De Gaulle, former President and founder of the French Fifth Republic.
Rome, Italy – FCO
Rome’s international airport honors the original Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci. It is often referred to as just FiumiCinO Airport, explaining its airport code of FCO.