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  • Courtney Nealis

USA Airport Codes and What They Mean

Updated: Feb 17

Have you ever glanced at the three-letter code on your boarding pass and wondered, "What does this mean?"



Navigating the vast world of aviation, those random combinations of letters hold the key to understanding your travel destinations, layovers, and connecting flights. In this A-Z guide, we unravel the mysteries behind the airport codes of major international destinations across the United States.

 

What are Airport Codes?

These three letter codes were determined by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) to help people differentiate between the different airports when traveling. Originally airports had 2 letter codes, but once more airports started being built there were not enough combinations, and the system was updated to the 3 letter codes we know and use today. These codes help pilots describe their locations during international travel, are printed on boarding passes and flight plans, and save people from having to say they are flying to the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport when going to Maryland.

 

How Do Airports Pick Their Codes?

The process of assigning airport codes involves unique sequences of three letters that cannot be duplicated for another airport. While some codes are derived from the destination's name (e.g., ALB for Albany, BOI for Boise, DEN for Denver), others take inspiration from the airport's title or historical significance. For instance, Chicago's ORD reflects its original name, Orchard Field, New Orleans’ MSY is for the Moisant Stock Yards, and Hawaii’s Kahului is for Captain Jimmy Hogg, the first pilot in history to make the transatlantic flight.

 

These codes are the same no matter which airline you fly and are there to help make your travel experience easier.

 

Navigating International Travel:

When traveling internationally, you may encounter four-letter codes, following the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard. The United States uses the letter 'K' as a prefix, so KJFK represents the same airport as JFK, for example.

 

 

Guide To US International Airports:

Code

Airport

City, State

ABQ

Albuquerque International Sunport

Albuquerque, New Mexico

ALB

Albany International Airport

Albany, New York

ANC

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

Anchorage, Alaska

ATL

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Atlanta, Georgia

AUS

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Austin, Texas

BNA

Nashville International Airport

Nashville, Tennessee

BOI

Boise Airport

Boise, Idaho

BOS

Boston Logan International Airport

Boston, Massachusetts

BUF

Buffalo Niagara International Airport

Buffalo, New York

BWI

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

Baltimore, Maryland

CHA

Chattanooga Airport

Chattanooga, Tennessee

CHS

Charleston International Airport

Charleston, South Carolina

CLE

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport

Cleveland, Ohio

CLT

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Charlotte, North Carolina

CMH

John Glenn Columbus International Airport

Columbus, Ohio

COS

Colorado Springs Airport

Colorado Springs, Colorado

CVG

Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky International Airport

Cincinnati, Ohio

CYS

Cheyenne Regional Airport

Cheyenne, Wyoming

DCA

Ronald Regan Washington National Airport

Washington DC, DOC

DEN

Denver International Airport

Denver, Colorado

DFW

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Dallas, Texas

DTW

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Detroit, Michigan

EWR

Newark Liberty International Airport

Newark, New Jersey

EYW

Key West International Airport

Key West, Florida

FLL

Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

GCN

Grand Canyon National Park Airport

Grand Canyon, Arizona

HNL

Daniel K. Inouye International Airport

Honolulu, Hawaii

IAD

Dulles International Airport

Dulles, Virginia

IAH

George Bush Intercontinental Airport

Houston, Texas

ILM

Wilmington International Airport

Wilmington, North Carolina

IND

Indianapolis International Airport

Indianapolis, Indiana

JAC

Jackson Hole Airport

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

JAX

Jacksonville International Airport

Jacksonville, Florida

JFK

John F. Kennedy International Airport

New York City, New York

LAS

Harry Reid International Airport

Las Vegas, Nevada

LAX

Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles, California

LGA

LaGuardia Airport

New York City, New York

MCI

Kansas City International Airport

Kansas City, Missouri

MCO

Orlando International Airport

Orlando, Florida

MEM

Memphis International Airport

Memphis, Tennessee

MGM

Montgomery Regional Airport

Montgomery, Alabama

MIA

Miami International Airport

Miami, Florida

MKE

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

MSP

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Minneapolis, Minnesota

MSY

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

New Orleans, Louisiana

MYR

Myrtle Beach International Airport

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

OGG

Kahului Airport

Maui, Hawaii

ORD

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Chicago, Illinois

PDX

Portland International Airport

Portland, Oregon

PHL

Philadelphia International Airport

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

PHX

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix, Arizona

PIT

Pittsburgh International Airport

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PVD

Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport

Providence, Rhode Island

RNO

Reno-Tahoe International Airport

Reno, Nevada

SAF

Santa Fe Regional Airport

Santa Fe, New Mexico

SAN

San Diego International Airport

San Diego, California

SAV

Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport

Savannah Georgia

SDF

Louisville International Airport

Louisville, Kentucky

SEA

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Seattle Washington

SFO

San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco, California

SLC

Salt Lake City International Airport

Salt Lake City, Utah

STL

St. Louis Lambert International Airport

St. Louis, Missouri

TOL

Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport

Toledo, Ohio

TPA

Tampa International Airport

Tampa, Florida

TUL

Tulsa International Airport

Tulsa, Oklahoma

TYS

McGhee Tyson Airport

Knoxville, Tennessee

 Overview: 

Airport codes need not be a source of stress when booking flights. With this comprehensive guide, you can decipher the meaning behind those three letters on your boarding ticket, making your travel experience smoother. For a comprehensive list of airport codes worldwide, visit http://www.airportcodes.org/.

 

Sources:

Leigh, Gabriel. “Ord, Fru, MSY: How Odd Airport Codes Came to Be.” Flightradar24 Blog, 3 Nov. 2022, www.flightradar24.com/blog/ord-fru-msy-how-odd-airport-codes-came-to-be/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CORD%E2%80%9D%20is%20a%20nod%20to,Cmdr. Accessed 17 Feb. 2024.


 

 

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