Cracking the Airport Codes

29 06 2009




You’re not a real traveller until you can talk in airport codes. It’s all fine and well to say you’re connecting in Chicago, but until you’ve texted your friends and said you’re grabbing a hot dog in ORD, you haven’t lived.


Every airport in the world has a three letter code. The system was based on one introduced by the U.S. National Weather Service who created two-letter codes to organise the data they gathered from their weather stations around the country. Airlines copied it, but as commercial aviation expanded in the 1930s and airports began to appear in places that didn’t have weather stations, it became clear that two-letter codes were insufficient…and so they expanded to the three-letter system that is today officially known as the “International Air Transport Association Location Identifier.”


Many codes are easily identifiable with their cities, like AMS for Amsterdam, CAI for Cairo or SIN for Singapore, or with their proper airport name like CDG for Charles de Gaulle, JFK for Kennedy or LHR for London Heathrow. But some aren’t so obvious, like YYZ for Toronto or EWR for Newark.


As the U.S. created the system, they had first crack at the codes. The U.S. Navy quickly claimed all the N codes for their bases, which is why somewhere like Newark is EWR while Canada claimed the Y codes, hence YVR for Vancouver etc. Although don’t be fooled, not every Y is in Canada and not all Canadian airports begin with Y.


That would be far too simple!


Unless you work for an airline or are in the travel industry, you will likely only learn airport codes through your own travel experiences. As your airport code vocabulary expands, you can start to read people’s luggage tags as you await your bag at the carrousel. “Oh look,” you can mindlessly think to yourself as that large tartan case with the pink ribbon tied to the handle trundles past for the fourth time “they’ve come from Istanbul and are continuing on to Omaha, Nebraska.”


Well, it beats throwing paperclips at the security guards!


If you have a very small brain like me, you can even amuse yourself by giggling at humourous codes or trying to think up interesting routings just to get a combination of codes onto a plane ticket. For example, did you know that if you flew from San Vito, Costa Rica to Fresno Yosemite your itinerary would read TOO FAT? Or that if your baggage claim tag reads SAY BIE it’s probably not that you’ll never seen it again but rather because you’re flying from Siena, Italy to Beatrice, Nebraska.


Apart from the fun you can have, there is a practical reason for familiarising yourself with airport codes and that’s that you can double-check that your bag has been properly tagged by the airline representative when you check-in for your flight. If it at least has the correct destination on it, there’s already a better chance you’ll see it again.


But just remember, the next time that airline rep hands you a tag that says BIG BUM on it, don’t get angry: it could just be that you’re on a domestic U.S. flight from Intermediate Airfield, Alaska to Butler, Missouri!



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

You What?

26 01 2009




                              “Is that the hole thing?”   (Grand Canyon)


Park rangers throughout the world are renowned for their knowledge, helpfulness, bravery and fieldcraft. They are there to assist visitors with both information and to inspire them with their enthusiasm for the natural wonders of which they are custodians. They act as guides, counsellors, educators, conservators, peacemakers and law-keepers and when things go wrong they are the ones who risk all to save travellers in trouble.


However, we now know that in addition to all of these admirable traits they should also be revered for their tremendous self-control in not whipping out their firearms and putting certain visitors out of their intellectual misery.


Park Rangers in the U.S. recently compiled a list of actual questions asked by park visitors and as you will see, giant redwoods aren’t the only thick things in national parks!


At Grand Canyon National Park:


“Was this man-made?”

“Is there an elevator to the bottom”

“Do you light it up at night?”

“Is the mule train air-conditioned?”

“Where are the faces of the presidents?”


At Carlsbad Caverns National Park:


“How much of the caves is underground?”

“So what’s in the unexplored part of the cave?”

“Does it ever rain in here?

“So what is this, just a hole in the ground?”

“How many ping pong balls would it take to fill it up?”


At Everglades National Park:


“Are the alligators real?”

“Are the baby alligators for sale?”

“When does the two o’clock bus leave?”


At Yosemite National Park:


“What time of year do you turn on Yosemite Falls?”

“What happened to the other half of Half Dome?”


At Alaska’s Denali National Park:


“What time do you feed the bears?”

“How often do you mow the tundra?”

“How much does Mount McKinley weigh?”


At Mesa Verde National Park:


“Did people build this, or did Indians?”

“Do you know of any undiscovered ruins?”

“Why did they build the ruins so close to the road?”



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan