Lonely Planet Writer

Revealed: the intriguing stories behind airport codes

In March, Airport Codes launched as a labour of love by Arizona-based designer Lynn Fisher and developer Nick Crohn. The website taps user-generated photos and crowd-sourced information to create short, fun facts about airports worldwide.

JFK amps up security as Ebola threat increases.
JFK in New York. Image by saaby / CC BY-SA 2.0

The site has gone viral. More than 600 travelers have contributed text and images for more than 700 airports in 186 countries.

For decades, the International Air Transport Association has assigned airport codes. Many of them are logical: JFK is for John F. Kennedy in New York and CDG is for Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

Yet some airport codes are unusual, such as FAT for Fresno, Calif., SEX for Sembach, Germany  and SUX for Sioux City, Iowa.

Wenatchee Airport known by the code EAT.
Wenatchee Airport known by the code EAT. Image by DRVMX / CC BY-SA 2.0

Some of the backstories about airports are cute: EAT is the code for the airport in Wenatchee, Wash., instead of a code like WEN. That’s because US regulators restricted American airport codes from beginning with the letters ‘W’ and ‘K’ – reserving those instead for radio station designations.

Another fun fact: did you know that Canadian airports codes include the letter Y in their codes, with few exceptions?

Airport Codes is good fun. But if it strikes you as too earnest, you can turn instead to another new site: CarpetsForAirports.com, which posts user-generated photos and whimsical text to describe the best and worst airport carpets worldwide. The site’s informal motto is: “Where there’s a will, there’s a weave.” No further explanation necessary.