Photo by Cynthia DialThe three-letter abbreviations are devised by IATA. That's the International Air Transport Association, the industry's worldwide trade and advocacy group. (There also are four-letter versions administered by ICAO, the civil air transport branch of the United Nations, but these are used only for navigation and technical purposes.) If the abbreviations aren't obvious, like BOS for Boston or BRU for Brussels, they can be fairly intuitive, such as London Heathrow's LHR or KIX for Osaka's Kansai International. Many of the outwardly arbitrary ones are carryovers from former names for the airport, MCO is derived from McCoy Field, the original name for Orlando International. Chicago O'Hare's identifier, ORD, pays honors to the old Orchard Field. Others are geographical associations or personal tributes, some more obscure than others. In Rio de Janeiro your plane will land at Galeao, on Governor's Island (Ilha do Governador), lending to GIG. On Maui, OGG is homage to Bertram Hogg (spoken with a silent H), Hawaii native and Pacific flying pioneer.
In one of those moments of American puritanical excess, a campaign was launched in 2002 to change the identifier for Sioux City, Iowa, from SUX to something less objectionable. The campaign failed and the letters, along with some pleasantly rougish charm, were retained. The Finns don't mind HEL as their capital city, and neither do the Syrians have a problem with DAM. Not being intimate with Japanese vulgarity, I'm unsure what the country's opinion is of FUK, the code for Fukuoka. To be safe, though, if ever you're traveling FUK-DAM-HEL, avoid speaking in acronyms which checking in.
Excerpted from Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith.
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