Airport abbreviations: How Los Angeles became LAX and Dulles IAD.

ORD? IAD? LAX? How Airports Get Their Bizarre Abbreviations.

ORD? IAD? LAX? How Airports Get Their Bizarre Abbreviations.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
March 24 2015 4:19 PM

LAX. IAD. ARN. WTF?

The strange stories behind airports’ three-letter abbreviations.

Airport codes.
Let’s see ... there’s Atlanta ... that must be Austin ... hmm ...

Screenshot via http://airportcod.es

When booking flights online, knowing your local airport’s code can come in handy. There’s 3,000 miles’ difference between BUR (Burbank, California) and BTV (Burlington, Vermont). And you probably don’t want to end up in Venezuela just in time for Oktoberfest (Munich’s code is MUC, not MUN).

Those enigmatic three-letter signifiers that help you search for flights on Kayak or Priceline are doled out by the International Air Transport Association, and distinguish airports from one another. But the average traveler may not know where those letters come from.

Arizona-based designer Lynn Fisher, who travels a lot and loves trivia, became interested in the rationale behind those IATA codes a few years ago but couldn’t find one place online that explained them all. She and developer Nick Crohn decided to create a website that did just that. The result, airportcod.es, pairs a “unique aspect of each airport, whether it be architecture, art, or a great view,” with its three-letter code and the origin story behind it. Some, like Fisher and Crohn’s local airport, PHX, are straightforward; others are more obscure or random. Visit their website to browse codes from more than 200 airports around the world. Here’s a sample:

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ARN
Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Stockholm

Stockholm’s airport is named ARlaNda, a made-up word combining Arland, another name for the nearby parish of Ärlinghundra, and landa, the Swedish verb meaning “to land.”

CDG
Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

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.

CGK
Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia

Soekarno–Hatta International serves the capital city of Jakarta and honors Indonesia’s first president and first vice president. It receives its code from the CenGKareng district in the city of Tangerang, where it’s located.

CVG
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Cincinnati

Serving the greater Cincinnati metro area, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky’s airport code comes from the nearby city of CoVinGton.

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DXB
Dubai International Airport, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

When Dubai International opened in 1960, the airport code DUB was already in use by Dublin. DuBai subbed an X for the U, making its unique airport code of DXB.

EWR
Liberty International Airport, Newark, New Jersey

When airport codes switched from two letters to three, the Navy reserved all codes starting with N. NEWaRk, then, used the other letters in its name to make EWR.

IAD
Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C.

D
ulles International Airport’s three-letter code was once DIA. When handwritten, it was often misread as DCA, another Washington airport. It was reversed to IAD to avoid confusion.

LAX
Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles

Before the 1930s, airports had two-letter codes. When codes switched to three letters, many added the letter X to the end. LA (Los Angeles) became LAX. (See also: PDX.)

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LHR
London Heathrow Airport, London

L
ondon HeathRow takes its name from Heathrow, a hamlet northwest of where the then-small airfield was started in 1929.

OGG
Kahului Airport, Kahului, Hawaii

Kahului Airport is named after its home city, but its airport code honors Hawaiian-born pilot Bertram J. HOGG.

ORD
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago

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

SFO
San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco

When codes switched to three letters from two, many added the letter X to the end. San FranciscO instead used its last letter O.

SUX
Sioux Gateway Airport, Sioux City, Iowa

S
ioUX City petitioned twice to have its airport code, SUX, changed. With no great alternatives, it stuck with it and now uses the slogan “Fly SUX.”

UIO
Mariscal Sucre International Airport, Quito, Ecuador

Mariscal Sucre International is named after Antonio José de Sucre, who fought for the independence of Quito, in what is now Ecuador. Because the Federal Communications Commission reserved codes starting with Q, it opted for other letters from its home city of QUItO.

YYZ
Pearson International Airport, Toronto

Airport codes starting with Y designate Canadian airports. The YZ isn’t as clear but is said to be the old railway station code for Malton, an area west of Toronto where the airport is located.

For more airport codes and their origin stories, visit airportcod.es.