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Airport Codes

Airport codes are three letter codes identifying a specific airport. These codes have been adopted internationally to help pilots and travellers go to the correct airport, and to differentiate between multiple airports in the same city or location.

Adopted broadly from 1963, by IATA – the International Air Transport Associations – these codes allowed for unique labelling of airports in much the same way as we now have What Three Words for mapping.

Three letters were chosen as they offered so many more variations than a two letter options, which were originally used in the USA.

Cities with multiple airports will sometimes share a common letter, like City Airport, Heathrow and Gatwick all have L in their code – LCY, LHR and LGW. Of the other two London airports, LTN is for Luton whilst London Stansted is still STN after it became an official London airport some years back.

Do Airport Codes change with Airport Names?

Most airport codes have remained the same since they were first labelled. Chicago’s O’hare airport still has the code ORD from the original name of Orchard Field. Flying into MSY will land at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, formerly known as McCoy Air Force base. Liverpool John Lennon Airport is still labelled LPL.

Do Any Airports have more than one IATA code?

Yes, EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg in the French Alsace region is so close to the border that it serves three different countries (Basel in Switzerland, Mulhouse in France and Freiburgh in Germany.) . Depending on your booking, you may be flying into MLH, BSL or EAP!

Airport Codes in Popular Culture

Some airport codes have been shorthand for the airport in question, enshrined in books or music. “It was a sweet December Day as I touched the ground in JFK” sang Bono in U2’s Angel of Harlem. British Pop Singer Rachel Stevens gained chart success with ‘Sweet Dreams my LA Ex’ whilst ‘flying to LAX’ sounds so much cooler than flying to Los Angeles International Airport.