Cracking the Airport Codes

29 06 2009

 YYZ

 

 

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





The Last King of Scotland

14 04 2009

 uganda-10-mw

        “Och, I’m looking for the Idi Amin tartan, please.”  (Market day, western Uganda)

 

 

It is said that lazy foreign correspondents gauge a country’s mood by chatting with taxi drivers. Given that taxi drivers spend almost as much time chatting with locals as bartenders and barbers, their feelings probably are somewhat of a barometer of a nation’s opinions and it’s an easy trap in which to fall.

 

I must confess that I’ve probably learned more about world affairs from taxi drivers than from CNN Bureau Chiefs. An Eritrean driver in Toronto taught me all about that country’s brutal independence struggle against Ethiopia, while an Iranian in Melbourne related what it was like to be a westernised bank manager in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. But as fascinating as those conversations were, probably the single most memorable of all came in Uganda.

 

Kampala’s international airport is located on the shores of Lake Victoria in nearby Entebbe. To any student of history, Entebbe is synonymous with a 1976 act of terrorism when a hijacked Air France Airbus was directed there after sympathetic Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada promised safety to its Palestinian and German hijackers. After several days during which all non-Jewish hostages were released, Israel launched a daring commando raid and safely rescued almost all the hostages.

 

It was early morning when my aircraft swept in over the impossibly blue lake. I strolled into a new terminal building but as my taxi drove away, we passed the old building now overgrown, falling apart and still pockmarked by the raid’s bullets. When my head swivelled to get a better look, the cabbie noticed my interest.

 

“Over there is the plane,” he said, his eyes making contact with mine in the rear-view mirror. The Air France livery was sun-bleached to nothing, and the aircraft had been picked-apart to remove anything of use or value. The area around it was overgrown with weeds and grass but it seemingly sat as an unintended monument to one of the world’s most famous acts of terrorism…and to an infamous Ugandan dictator.

 

Even before Giles Foden’s novel and Oscar-winning movie “The Last King of Scotland”, Idi Amin’s name was synonymous with a blood-thirsty – if slightly buffoonish – dictator. Amin rose to power in a coup in 1971 and soon reaped a reign of terror that included human rights abuses, political repression, murder and war. Amnesty International estimated he was responsible for as many as 500,000 Ugandan deaths while former colleagues claimed he indulged in cannibalism. By the time of his death in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003, Amin’s place in history as one of the world’s most feared tyrants was complete.

 

My driver tutted as we drove past.

 

“I wish we had him now,” he muttered quietly.

 

“Amin?” I asked, trying not to let my incredulity show at his confessed support for a man that most of the world still considers a monster.

 

“Yes, Amin” he said. “We wouldn’t have the problems that we’ve got now. There was law and order here. People had jobs. We were powerful. Now we have terrorists in the north and AIDS everywhere. It wouldn’t have happened under Amin.”

 

For once I was at a loss for words and quietly stared at the passing scenery. Perhaps a tabloid journalist would have reported that Uganda “longs for return of strong man”, but during the following weeks I spent in the East African country, his was the lone voice of support I heard.

 

Most likely, he was not alone but just like the London taxi driver who believed that Milli Vanilli were musical geniuses who were framed, he was certainly in the minority.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





Mapquest

9 02 2009

 antarctic-map1

For as long as I can remember I have loved maps. Even before my wanderlust took hold, I was captivated by them so much so that while everyone else was heading for recess, I was in my element drawing them in geography class…with shading, labelling, texturing and different coloured pencils. At age 6. Yes, I was a sad child.

 

Once I started travelling, maps and atlases became an integral part of my wandering. I not only liked to know where I was going before I got there, but I liked to keep track of my progress and my whereabouts once there. And the more remote my travels, the more I liked following my course. A map showing the dotted-line off-road tracks and topographical features of a wilderness area remains particularly satisfying for my nerdish yearnings and I soon amassed a library of maps.

 

However, I also found that my maps served a genuine purpose beyond pleasing my anorak tendencies. I found that plotting my course on a map was actually a great and quick alternative to keeping a diary. My route could be marked, the places I stayed the night noted and the side-trips logged. This would then not only be a nice souvenir of my off-road peregrinations, but it was also a great way for me to later identify where I had taken my photographs.

 

And familiarity with my surroundings and landmarks meant that if I got lost during a late-night visit to the long-drop, I stood a better chance of finding my way back to the campsite without screaming in fear. In theory, at least.

 

I will admit that my fascination perhaps stretches a little beyond the normal, but I have always been rather surprised by travellers who take no interest at all in their routes or even their destinations.

 

A short while ago I was on a flight from Los Angeles to Toronto and found myself seated beside two university students on their way to Europe to learn Spanish for the summer. Their flights had them connecting to Madrid via Toronto, and their conversation went like this:

 

“Hey, so like, where’s Toronto any way?”

 

“I dunno. I think it’s on the east coast.”

 

“Near Boston?”

 

“Yeah. That sounds right.”

 

“What’s the time difference?”

 

“I dunno. Doesn’t it say on the ticket?  (looks at ticket) I think it must be 3 hours.”

 

“The same as New York.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So maybe it’s near New York.”

 

“Yeah. Or Baltimore.”

 

“Yeah. Baltimore.”

 

“I wonder if it’s in the in-flight magazine. Hey, here it is.”

 

“It’s an island?”

 

“Yeah. I didn’t know that.”

 

“Hmmm. An island. Cool.”

 

“Oh no, that’s a Lake….it’s not an island.”

 

Lake Ontario. Yeah. Not an island.”

 

“Is Toronto near Canada?”

 

 

 

Illustration and post by:  Simon Vaughan