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A baggage tag for a flight heading to Oral Ak Zhol Airport, whose IATA airport code is "URA"

An IATA airport code, also known as an IATA location identifier, IATA station code, or simply a location identifier, is a three-letter geocode designating many airports and metropolitan areas around the world, defined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).[1] The characters prominently displayed on baggage tags attached at airport check-in desks are an example of a way these codes are used.[2][3][4]

The assignment of these codes is governed by IATA Resolution 763,[5] and it is administered by the IATA's headquarters in Montreal, Canada. The codes are published semi-annually in the IATA Airline Coding Directory.

IATA provides codes for airport handling entities, and for certain railway stations.[6]

Alphabetical lists of airports sorted by IATA code are available. A list of railway station codes, shared in agreements between airlines and rail lines such as Amtrak, SNCF, and Deutsche Bahn, is available. However, many railway administrations have their own list of codes for their stations, such as the list of Amtrak station codes.


Airport codes arose out of the convenience that the practice brought pilots for location identification in the 1930s. Initially, pilots in the United States used the two-letter code from the National Weather Service (NWS) for identifying cities. This system became unmanageable for cities and towns without an NWS identifier, and the use of two letters allowed only a few hundred combinations; a three-letter system of airport codes was implemented. This system allowed for 17,576 permutations, assuming all letters can be used in conjunction with each other.[7]

Naming conventions

National policies

United States

Since the U.S. Navy reserved "N" codes, and to prevent confusion with Federal Communications Commission broadcast call signs, which begin with "W" or "K", the airports of certain U.S. cities whose name begins with one of these letters had to adopt "irregular" airport codes:

This practice is not followed outside the United States:

In addition, since three letter codes starting with Q are widely used in radio communication, cities whose name begins with "Q" also had to find alternate codes, as in the case of:[citation needed]

IATA codes should not be confused with the FAA identifiers of U.S. airports. Most FAA identifiers agree with the corresponding IATA codes, but some do not, such as Saipan, whose FAA identifier is GSN and its IATA code is SPN, and some coincide with IATA codes of non-U.S. airports.[citation needed]


Canada's unusual codes—which bear little to no similarity with any conventional abbreviation to the city's name—such as YUL in Montréal, and YYZ in Toronto, originated from the two-letter codes used to identify weather reporting stations in the 1930s. The letters preceding the two-letter code follow the following format:

Most large airports in Canada have codes that begin with the letter "Y",[8][unreliable source?] although not all "Y" codes are Canadian (for example, YUM for Yuma, Arizona, and YNT for Yantai, China), and not all Canadian airports start with the letter "Y" (for example, ZBF for Bathurst, New Brunswick). Many Canadian airports have a code that starts with W, X or Z, but none of these are major airports. When the Canadian transcontinental railroads were built, each station was assigned its own two-letter Morse code:

When the Canadian government established airports, it used the existing railway codes for them as well. If the airport had a weather station, authorities added a "Y" to the front of the code, meaning "Yes" to indicate it had a weather station or some other letter to indicate it did not. When international codes were created in cooperation with the United States, because "Y" was seldom used in the United States, Canada simply used the weather station codes for its airports, changing the "Y" to a "Z" if it conflicted with an airport code already in use. The result is that most major Canadian airport codes start with "Y" followed by two letters in the city's name (for example, YOW for Ottawa, YWG for Winnipeg, YYC for Calgary, or YVR for Vancouver), whereas other Canadian airports append the two-letter code of the radio beacons that were the closest to the actual airport, such as YQX in Gander or YXS in Prince George.[citation needed]

Four of the ten provincial capital airports in Canada have ended up with codes beginning with YY, including:

Canada's largest airport is YYZ[9] for Toronto Pearson (as YTZ was already allocated to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, the airport was given the station code of Malton, Mississauga, where it is located). YUL is used for Montréal–Trudeau (UL was the ID code for the beacon in the city of Kirkland, now the location of Montréal–Trudeau). While these codes make it difficult for the public to associate them with a particular Canadian city, some codes have become popular in usage despite their cryptic nature, particularly at the largest airports. Toronto's code has entered pop culture in the form of "YYZ", a song by the rock band Rush, which utilizes the Morse code signal as a musical motif. Some airports have started using their IATA codes as brand names, such as Calgary International Airport (YYC)[10] and Vancouver International Airport (YVR).[11]

New Zealand

Numerous New Zealand airports use codes that contain the letter Z, to distinguish them from similar airport names in other countries. Examples include HLZ for Hamilton, ZQN for Queenstown, and WSZ for Westport.

Naming conventions in general

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Predominantly, airport codes are named after the first three letters of the city in which it is located, for instance:

The code may also be a combination of the letters in its name, such as:

Some airports in the United States retained their NWS codes and simply appended an X at the end. Examples include:

Sometimes the airport code reflects pronunciation, rather than spelling, namely:

For many reasons, some airport codes do not fit the normal scheme described above. Some airports, for example, cross several municipalities or regions, and therefore, use codes derived from some of their letters, resulting in:

Other airports—particularly those serving cities with multiple airports—have codes derived from the name of the airport itself, for instance:

This is also true with some cities with a single airport (even if there is more than one airport in the metropolitan area of said city), such as BDL for Hartford, Connecticut's Bradley International Airport or Baltimore's BWI, for Baltimore/Washington International Airport; however, the latter also serves Washington, D.C., alongside Dulles International Airport (IAD, for International Airport Dulles) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA, for District of Columbia Airport).[7]

The code also sometimes comes from the airport's former name, such as Orlando International Airport's MCO (for McCoy Air Force Base), or Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which is coded ORD for its original name: Orchard Field. In rare cases, the code comes from the airport's unofficial name, such as Kahului Airport's OGG (for local aviation pioneer Jimmy Hogg).

Cities with multiple commercial airports

In large metropolitan areas, airport codes are often named after the airport itself instead of the city it serves, while another code is reserved which refers to the city itself which can be used to search for flights to any of its airports. For instance:

Or using a code for the city in one of the major airports and then assigning another code to another airport:

When different cities with the same name each have an airport, they need to be assigned different codes. Examples include:

Sometimes, a new airport is built, replacing the old one, leaving the city's new "major" airport (or the only remaining airport) code to no longer correspond with the city's name. The original airport in Nashville, Tennessee, was built in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration and called Berry Field with the designation, BNA. A new facility known as Nashville International Airport was built in 1987 but still uses BNA. This is in conjunction to rules aimed to avoid confusion that seem to apply in the United States, which state that "the first and second letters or second and third letters of an identifier may not be duplicated with less than 200 nautical miles separation."[7] Thus, Washington, D.C. area's three airports all have radically different codes: IAD for Washington–Dulles, DCA for Washington–Reagan (District of Columbia Airport), and BWI for Baltimore (Baltimore–Washington International, formerly BAL).[7] Since HOU is used for William P. Hobby Airport, the new Houston–Intercontinental became IAH.[7] The code BKK was originally assigned to Bangkok–Don Mueang and was later transferred to Suvarnabhumi Airport, while the former adopted DMK. The code ISK was originally assigned to Gandhinagar Airport (Nashik's old airport) and later on transferred to Ozar Airport (Nashik's current airport). Shanghai–Hongqiao retained the code SHA, while the newer Shanghai–Pudong adopted PVG. The opposite was true for Berlin: the airport Berlin–Tegel used the code TXL, while its smaller counterpart Berlin–Schönefeld used SXF; the Berlin Brandenburg Airport has the airport code BER, which is also part of its branding. The airports of Hamburg (HAM) and Hannover (HAJ) are less than 100 nautical miles (190 km) apart and therefore share the same first and middle letters, indicating that this rule might be followed only in Germany.

Cities or airports changing names

Many cities retain historical names in their airport codes, even after having undergone an official name/spelling/transliteration change:

Some airport codes are based on previous names associated with a present airport, often with a military heritage. These include:

Some airports are named for an administrative division or nearby city, rather than the one they are located in:

Other airport codes are of obscure origin, and each has its own peculiarities:

In Asia, codes that do not correspond with their city's names include Niigata's KIJ, Nanchang's KHN and Pyongyang's FNJ.

Multiple codes for a single airport

EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, which serves three countries, has three airport codes: BSL, MLH, EAP.

Airport codes using the English name of the city

Some cities have a name in their respective language which is different from the name in English, yet the airport code represents only the English name. Examples include:

Scarcity of codes

Due to scarcity of codes, some airports are given codes with letters not found in their names:

Airports without codes

A lot of minor airfields without scheduled passenger traffic have ICAO codes but not IATA codes, since the four letter codes allow more number of codes, and IATA codes are mainly used for passenger services such as tickets, and ICAO codes by pilots. In the US, such airfields use FAA codes instead of ICAO.

There are airports with scheduled service for which there are ICAO codes but not IATA codes, such as Nkhotakota Airport/Tangole Airport in Malawi or Chōfu Airport in Tokyo, Japan. There are also several minor airports in Russia (e.g., Omsukchan Airport) which lack IATA codes and instead use internal Russian codes for booking. Flights to these airports cannot be booked through the international air booking systems or have international luggage transferred there, and thus, they are booked instead through the airline or a domestic booking system. Several heliports in Greenland have 3-letter codes used internally which might be IATA codes for airports in faraway countries.

There are several airports with scheduled service that have not been assigned ICAO codes that do have IATA codes, especially in the U.S. For example, several airports in Alaska have scheduled commercial service, such as Stebbins and Nanwalek, which use FAA codes instead of ICAO codes.

Thus, neither system completely includes all airports with scheduled service.

Use in colloquial speech

Some airports are identified in colloquial speech by their IATA code. Examples include LAX and JFK.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "Airline and Location Code Search". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  2. ^ "Baggage Standards". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  3. ^ "Directory of Strategic Partners". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  4. ^ "BAGTAG – For everyone who likes to travel smart, easy and fast". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  5. ^ "Understanding Airport Location Identifiers". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  6. ^ "IATA 3-Letters Station Codes". 2014-03-02. Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Airport ABCs: An Explanation of Airport Identifier Codes". Air Line Pilot. Air Line Pilots Association. 1994. Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  8. ^ "Why Do Canadian Airport Codes Start With The Letter 'Y'? | Airport Codes Explained". Airfarewatchdog Blog. 2019-03-07. Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  9. ^ "This is why Toronto's airport code is YYZ". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  10. ^ "YYC: Calgary Airport Authority". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  11. ^ "Vancouver International Airport Homepage". Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  12. ^ "Airline and Location Code Search". International Air Transport Association. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  13. ^ "SDF History". Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport. Retrieved 2020-11-29.
  14. ^ "New River Valley Airport - PSK - Dublin, VA (Address, Phone, and Fax)".
  15. ^ "Export Preview | Digital Logistics Capacity Assessments".
  16. ^ "Brackett Field Airport". Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. Retrieved March 16, 2024.
  17. ^ Owen, Bill (April 8, 2015). "Every Airport Code Tells a Story". Southwest Airlines. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  18. ^ Hope, Allison (2017-08-31). "How Airports Get Their Codes". Condé Nast Traveler. Archived from the original on 2023-02-15. Retrieved 2023-07-11.