BY Christopherson Business Travel |

The Rhyme and Reason Of Airport Codes

airport codes

You may have noticed that the airline industry uses three-letter codes to identify the various airports around the world. For example, if you were to travel to the New York area, your choices of airports are John F. Kennedy Airport or “JFK,” LaGuardia Airport “LGA,” or Newark International Airport “EWR.”

Some of the designations, like JFK, are pretty self explanatory, but others aren’t as easy to distinguish. For instance, why is New Orleans MSY and Knoxville, Tennessee TYS? And why isn’t Nashville NAS rather than BNA? Well, the New Orleans airport is named for the Moissant Stock Yards (hence the MSY) and Knoxville (TYS) earned its name from a local family–the Tysons. And as for Nashville, NAS is actually the code for the international airport in Nassau, Bahamas. Nashville’s code BNA stands for Berry Field International.

Some airport names, like LAX in Los Angeles and PDX in Portland, came from their two-letter weather station abbreviations–LA and PD–but since airport codes use a three-letter designator, they earned the ending “X.”

Some codes reflect former names of their airports. FAT is the Fresno, California airport which was originally called the Fresno Air Terminal. And then there are others named for the city and not the airport. For example, SNA is the John Wayne Airport but the code more closely represents the city it’s in–Santa Ana, California. Harrisburg’s airport code is MDT which is stands for the city of Middletown, Pennsylvania where the airport is located.

Canadian airports are all designated with a Y in their codes: YUL is Montreal, YYZ is Toronto, and YVR is Vancouver.

As you can see it can be difficult to figure out any sort of rhyme or reason to the system. But it’s definitely a good idea to know the code for your correct destination. You will note that your bag tag is usually marked with the three-letter code. So if you’re heading to Honolulu, be sure that tag reads HNL and not HLN so your luggage makes it to Hawaii and not Helena, Montana!