Airport Codes For Everyone

Are you flying BDL to CDG via ORD? Or BOS to NRT via LAX? What does it all mean? Why can’t we just use the airport names?

I started to learn airport codes back in the olden days, in the early 1990s. I had a dial-up AOL account that linked into an air travel reservation system called easy SABRE.

The three-letter codes were part of an arcane system of commands that you needed to know to use easy SABRE, which was not all that easy. If you didn’t know the codes, there was no way to look them up. I used to just guess until I got them right.

Today, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and the rest run on the same Sabre (now in lower-case letters) database. But the interface is immensely more user-friendly. One of the only vestiges of the old days is the reliance on three-letter airport codes, the same ones that end up on your luggage tags.

Of course it’s easy now to look the codes up. But knowing them has a certain cachet. On the frequent flier forums I visit everybody posts with the airport codes, and they throw in the two-letter airline codes, too. (Flying JFK to MAD via AMS on CO!)

Some airport codes have become part of the common lexicon. Everybody knows JFK and LAX. But do you know why LAX, PHX and PDX end in X? And do you know why all the Canadian airports start with Y? And can you explain why the New Orleans airport code is MSY?

This article will tell you all about it. 


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